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August 28, 2014

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Hospital could face fine over terrorism drill gone awry

Investigation details traumatic events

St. Rose Dominican Hospital — Siena Campus

Nurses were caring for 26 patients in the intensive care unit at St. Rose Dominican Hospital — Siena Campus, when a man, edgy and brandishing a handgun, appeared in a hall and began herding nurses, doctors and other employees into a break room.

Employees began crying in fear, and no wonder. It was the second time in as many years a gunman had been in the hospital. Last year, Henderson Police shot and killed an armed, hostile man in the emergency room.

But this time, the handgun was not loaded. It was a terrorism training exercise.

The role-playing gunman was an off-duty Metro Police officer.

But no one told the staff the events that unfolded May 24 were not real.

And on Friday, the state Health Division said it may fine the hospital because patients were left unattended during those 15 minutes of terror.

Many details in this story are from the state’s report.

Teressa Conley, the hospital’s chief operating officer, told state investigators that the three employees who cooked up the exercise failed to tell hospital administrators or anyone in the intensive care unit about the drill.

“Staff thought there was a real armed hostage crisis occurring in the ICU unit,” the report said.

Conley told the Sun Friday that there were missteps in the planning of the drill, but no patient care was compromised, and that the hospital has provided emotional support for the employees who were traumatized.

The emergency drill was planned by the hospital’s heads of security, emergency management and the environmental care committee. Hospital employees had criticized previous drills as not being realistic, Conley said, so the three had “the best intentions” to make the drill worthwhile.

Conley told state investigators that at 10 a.m. that day, she heard a “code grey” announced — meaning an assault or threat by an unarmed aggressor in ICU. Ten minutes later it was upgraded to “code silver,” an assault, threat or hostage situation with an armed suspect.

The ICU’s director told state investigators that she approached the suspect with another employee and asked him to step into her office. He pointed the gun at them and directed them and two others into a break room. Two security guards who were in the room were directed to discard their radios.

One employee was suctioning a patient’s airway when he heard the code grey, stepped into the hallway and was seen and detained by the gunman. The employee told investigators that patient care was compromised because he was unable to finish suctioning the patient’s airway and could not check the oxygen level of the patient’s blood.

Another employee was caring for a patient who was suffering periods of low heart rate and low blood pressure when she heard the code grey over the overhead intercom. She saw the gunman, who looked angry, and was then taken as a hostage in the break room. She thought she was going to die, the state report said.

No one monitored the patients who had been abandoned during the drill, the employee said.

Eventually eight employees — two staff nurses, two doctors, a respiratory therapist, director of the unit, the charge nurse and a house supervisor — were in the room. They were told to get against a wall.

Several were crying. One employee told state investigators he thought he was going to die.

After about five minutes, the Metro officer told the group it was a drill, but he did not release them to be with patients for another 10 minutes, the report said.

Conley said the hospital has revised its training policy and will require announcements, signs and other communication with staff to ensure the mistake does not happen again.

Two of the three employees involved in planning the drill were suspended and then stripped of their positions, Conley said.

The security director was terminated. The job is posted on the hospital’s recruiting website.

The hospital faces an $800 fine for the violations identified in the investigation, state officials said.

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