It takes just four minutes and 10 seconds for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s new decontamination shower shelter to be inflated and ready for use.
About 30 hospital staff members were trained Thursday on how to properly deploy and operate the shelter, which is to be used during decontamination and mass casualty events.
“As a region leader in emergency preparedness, St. Elizabeth’s is pleased to provide this crucial emergency equipment,” said Kevin Scheibe, EMS/emergency management coordinator for St. Elizabeth’s. “Having this advanced resource allows our community to be confident in knowing that St. Elizabeth’s will be ready to deploy and serve their needs in any decontamination or mass casualty event that arises in our area.”
St. Elizabeth’s emergency response region includes rural farms, as well as a well-developed industrial region, where hazardous risk events could potentially occur, according to Scheibe.
“We are ready for any type of hazardous chemical,” he said. “This is the most advanced decontamination equipment out there right now.”
The new shelter features three lanes for gender specific accommodations, as well as non-ambulatory patients that are in need of treatment while on backboards. The shelter, which is roughly 18 feet wide and 24 feet long and 10 feet high, is also equipped to decontaminate pediatric patients.
Once patients are identified, Scheibe said they would step into the appropriate lane of the tent and undress in private and place their contaminated clothes in a bag, which would be disposed of appropriately. Then they will enter the shower portion of tent. Once decontaminated, patients will put on a hospital gown and be cared for by hospital staff accordingly.
For patients able to walk on their own, emergency management personnel will be stationed outside of the tent talking them through the process.
“It can be very traumatizing to a lot of people,” Scheibe said of the decontamination process. “It takes a lot of coaching and caring ways of talking.”
Pediatric and non-ambulatory patients will be decontaminated by medical professionals wearing Hazmat suits in the larger middle lane of the shelter, which has roller bars that allows patients to be rolled through the tent while on a backboard or in a seat designed for young children.
Scheibe estimated it will take a mobile person about four minutes to be decontaminated and a non-ambulatory patient between eight and 10 minutes. Any water used to decontaminate patients will be pumped into a storage tank and disposed of properly, he said.
If deployed for use at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Scheibe said it would be set up in the EMS bay and will be supplied with water and electricity from the hospital. However if deployed off site, he said generators would be used to supply electricity and water will be pumped in through a water tank or if need be a fire hydrant.
“We can deploy this anywhere,” Scheibe said.
Currently, the hospital has a heater unit for the shelter, Scheibe said, and in the future, a cooling unit may also be purchased.
After going through the training Thursday morning. Michael Bold, plant operation manager at St. Elizabeth’s, described the new shelter as “very impressive.”
“This will be a great resource for our community,” he said. “Hopefully, the only time we have to use it is for training, but it’s great to know it’s there.”
St. Elizabeth’s isn’t the only hospital in the region to have a decontamination shelter. Anderson Hospital in Maryville has had one for more than a decade, according to Eric Brandmeyer, director of EMS and emergency preparedness for Anderson.
The hospital has never had to use its portable shelter other than for training.
“We have simply practiced with it.” Brandmeyer said. “We have never utilized in full decon.”
Memorial Hospital in Belleville also has a portable decontamination tent.
The purchase of St. Elizabeth’s new decontamination shelter was made possible by a grant from the Friends of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the hospital’s foundation. The total cost was approximately $42,000.
The Losberger MDS-three line mass casualty/decontamination shelter was purchased through Traube Tent in Columbia.
The shower shelter was manufactured in Germany, according to Mark Vidovic, a distribution manager for Losberger, who was at the St. Elizabeth’s training Thursday to assist hospital staff.
The shelter, which is made of 22 ounce PVC vinyl coated fabric, can be set up with as few as four people, according to Vidovic. The shelter’s lifespan is unlimited, he said, if it’s stored and cared for properly.
Scheibe said the previous decontamination shelter the hospital had was “outdated and not reliable.” It also took 45 minutes to set up.
“When you are talking about response time, that’s a big deal,” Scheibe said. “You need to be quick to react.”
Some hospital staff members will be sent to advanced emergency response training in Anniston, Ala., and others will undergo more extensive two-day Hospital Emergency Response Team training in June.
“We are prepared and ready if this (a mass casualty or decontamination event) were to ever happen,” Scheibe said.