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Newton Medical trains for disaster
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"Ahh, my back," a Newton High School health care student shrieked as she was treated for her mock injury by staff at Newton Medical Center. Her pre-planned injury was the result of a phony tornado that was said to have touched down in Porterdale, injuring residents and destroying the blood lab at the hospital.

It’s a make believe scenario that’s all part of a program sponsored by the Georgia Department of Public Health, where a number of metro Atlanta hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, public health and other community response partners participated in a severe weather tornado drill exercise on March 4 and March 5.

Suzanne Smalley, exercises and drills coordinator for the Georgia Healthcare Alliance, said regional coordinating hospital regions participated in the tornado full-scale exercise, which allows staff to practice emergency preparedness and response among hospitals in the region.

Kevin Johnson, Newton Medical Center’s director of emergency management services, explained Tuesday’s scenario, where hospital staff practiced treating patients who were injured within the hospital and from the community.

"In this event we’ve got structural damage to the hospital because of the weather, [and] we are collecting them from the field, these are patients from the community," Johnson said. "We have two things going on. There are internal patients injured [and] the third floor is affected from this weather. So we’ve got internal patients and then we have patients from the community coming in from EMS.

"So we just don’t dump all these patients to the emergency room, we’re holding and sorting them," he said.

He explained that there were three different colored tarps set up, which labeled how severe the posed injuries were.

"We have red, those patients are the most severe, the next will be yellow, those are patients where when we get room, we bring those in, and the green is the minor injuries, where they still need to be seen," Johnson explained.

"In real terms, we will assign patients to each tarp, and then we will have caregivers taking care of people. So what we are really doing is that we are collecting them, and then treating them and then we will filter them into the emergency room," he said.

Johnson said the drill also involved public safety units, such as the Covington Police Department and Fire Department and other partners within the community, who would help in the event of a disaster.

"We use all of our other public safety," he said. "They help manage our environment.

"This becomes our neighborhood. Emergency management comes in and brings supplies and food," Johnson said. "While we have limited resources, we have a lot of partners. All these types of partners take a part."

A total of 19 Newton High School healthcare students participated in the drill, acting as patients who were injured. Newton High School Healthcare Sciences Trainer Theresa Khun said students involved with the triage event gain hands-on experience by acting as patients.

"When you talk about healthcare, you can preach to them all you want and have them read about it, but until they actually do the hands-on experience, they don’t get it," Khun said. "This is the best learning experience for them and this hooks them into the excitement in actually dealing with real adults in healthcare."

Newton Medical Center’s Assistant Engineering Director Duke McNary, one of the event’s organizers, said having students involved with the drill also gives them familiarity with different functions of the hospital.

"They get to experience what we do here and see what goes on. This gives them more of what actually happens here and how we help people," McNary said.