By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
The July earthquakes dealt a devastating blow to nearby Ridgecrest Regional Hospital which caused flooding and evacuations. In an effort to be well-prepared to deal with similar emergencies that might befall Kern Valley Hospital, the Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) announced at its board meeting on Wednesday, October 2 that it would be conducting an emergency preparedness drill with the Kern County Fire Department.
The drill occurred on Friday, October 4 with engines from all five local fire stations on site responding to the emergency. Bob Easterday, KVHD Plant Operations Manager, gave scripts to each hospital department regarding what damage and injuries affected their individual areas as part of the training exercise. Employees acted as they had been trained in response to those conditions, including activating fire alarms and extinguishers, accounting for and addressing the condition of patients and employees, and evacuating as appropriate. The fire department searched for a fire and broken water pipes, injured and missing personnel, and assessed and dealt with other emergency conditions.
The results of the drill were favorable, especially regarding the communication between and within each of the agencies and departments involved. A command center was immediately set up with Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief Dionisio Mitchell and KVHD Chief Nursing Officer Mark Gordon receiving reports from their own units and coordinating the results between the agencies. Detailed facility maps of every area of the hospital were readily available and referred to frequently throughout the changing disaster scenario.
Each hospital department reported any damage to their areas and the number of staff and patients accounted for; the information was entered into a computer as well as written on a large white board. Runners were available to physically transmit critical information when staff could not be reached.
This was the second hospital emergency drill coordinated with Kern County agencies, the prior one being between the hospital and the Sherriff’s Office SWAT Team in a workplace violence scenario. Critique of that drill improved the accuracy and speed of communication during the disaster drill with the Fire Department on Friday.
Both of these drills were a vast improvement over the lack of any communication between first responders and hospital personnel during the Erskine Fire in June 2016. At the drill on Friday, Battalion Chief Mitchell called the hospital a “high target hazard.” He explained that a disaster at the hospital creates “a very large potential threat to life and property since it is pivotal to serving the needs of the Kern River Valley.” Holding joint emergency preparedness exercises improves the skills of both agencies and improves the likely outcome of a potential disaster at the site.
At its prior Wednesday meeting, the Board of Directors had discussed with KVHD staff the status of the modified seismic retrofit bill for hospitals which is making its way through the State Legislative process. Instead of remodeling entire hospitals, the draft wording of the revised seismic standards are focused on assuring the functionality of emergency rooms, surgery, and recovery spaces which would be the most necessary areas for treating patients after an earthquake.
The broad and expensive seismic standards currently in force were further questioned by the hospital industry and legislators after Ridgecrest Regional Hospital had just spent $72 million dollars constructing a new building and emergency room (ER) to comply with the current standards of keeping the entire hospital open. Yet that building could not be used after the recent earthquake due to extensive water damage. It was critical for the hospital to treat earthquake injuries, and in the end, it was the ER in their older building that proved to be their most valuable service.