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Scrubbed down and suited up

Emergency preparedness

Chris Scott, left, a nurse from Peterborough Health Centre, sprays down Robert McDougall, a physician assistant from Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, during an emergency preparedness drill at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa late last month.


By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

An emergency has befallen the region. Is it nuclear fallout? Or perhaps a chemical spill? Terrorists detonated a dirty bomb? Even given the worst case scenario, workers at Lakeridge Health are prepared for whatever comes their way.

Healthcare workers from the Oshawa hospital, along with their colleagues from Lindsay, Peterborough and Scarborough, were on hand for a three-day training session with the provincial Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) to learn what to do in a series of possible catastrophes.

“They’ve been a three-day chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives course for hospital providers, so it’s a first receiver’s course,” Mike Merko, operations chief for EMAT, tells The Oshawa Express.

Merko says the course, running for nearly a decade, has traveled the province to make sure health care workers are up to date on what they should and shouldn’t do during such an emergency.

“We’ve run this course for the last eight or nine years. It was originally part of a Ministry of Health initiative for preparedness. Originally we tried training all of the hospitals in Ontario and since then we’ve done recurring training,” Merko says, adding the recurring training is so that workers don’t forget what they have learned previously.

One of those doing the exercise for the first time was Paul Green, who came from Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay.

Speaking from inside a decontamination suit, Green said the exercise is just a matter of getting some real world training, rather than just reading about what to do.

“We already have everything as far as our legislation in place,” he says. “We’re just having some hands-on work so that we’re more prepared for terorrism or some other kind of attack.”

As for being contained inside of a plastic suit and completely sealed off, Green says the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.

“It’s kind of mind over matter,” he says. Especially when you got to consider that you could be saving someone’s life. I just kind of look at the fact that you have to dress like that to protect yourself.”

Merko says workers typically only work in the suits for short bursts – typically about an hour, depending on the temperature – to prevent overheating. The times that the suits are put on and expected to be taken off are written on duct tape put over the workers’ backs.

For those wondering if this training is ahead of an event that may be on the horizon, Merko says not to worry.

“It’s just general preparedness,” he says. “Not for any certain threat, but again, the hospitals need to maintain a certain level of self sufficiency, so this training helps them kind of do that in an event they deal with a chemical, biological or nuclear event.”

Merko says that the lessons being taught at Lakeridge and other hospitals across Ontario have seen some real world use, although not on a large scale.

“We’ve had patients where they’ve had to be decontaminated due to pepper spray, smaller chemical things,” he says. “We haven’t had a large incident, thank goodness, but we’ve had smaller incidents where they’ve had to pull stuff out and use the training.”