A team effort

Published 7:24 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Albert Lea hospital’s disaster plan relies on the teamwork of staff


On Friday, Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea received notice it might need to receive 10 to 20 patients from a pileup crash on Interstate 35.

Email newsletter signup

Though the number of patients from the crash ended up being less than originally thought, the hospital system credits its emergency plan with successfully treating the five patients taken to the hospital following the crash. The hospital also treated one patient from a separate crash and one who was undergoing a medical condition.

According to Betzalel Reich, who led the Albert Lea hospital’s emergency department during the influx, the hospital system’s disaster plan involves staff being transitioned to the emergency department to handle the patient increase.

On Friday, three additional nursing staff, general surgeon Darin Passer and orthopedic surgeon Michael Eckstrom temporarily transferred to the emergency department to assist.

“We used all of our staff, from our O.R. staff to staff that were available in any place in the hospital,” said nursing manager Joy Shaft. “We had resources that came to the emergency department to assist, and that is our plan. Our plan is to call a medical plan for events like this, and it worked exactly the way it was supposed to.”

Shaft estimated more than a dozen staff members responded to the influx of patients. There were dedicated staff to manage ambulance reports and help coordinate ambulance rides from Rochester to Albert Lea to pick up patients to return to Rochester.

“We called in other staff who weren’t able to come,” she said. “However, we had enough resources from other areas that came in or came down from wherever they were at to help.”

Brad Niebuhr, operation manager for the hospital service line in Albert Lea and Austin, said though severe weather makes enacting the hospital’s policy more challenging, “it doesn’t really change our processes for dealing with multiple injury or ill patients.”

Shaft noted the importance of being prepared for such incidents.

“Our staff is prepared 24/7 for the what-ifs,” she said. “And, like any other day, our emergency department staff were prepared.”

The injuries from the crash were mainly orthopedic, Reich said. One reportedly had internal injuries, and there were reports of head injuries, lacerations and at least one spinal fracture.

Three patients were reportedly taken to Rochester, and one person had surgery in Albert Lea.

Reich noted the emergency department “was already pretty full” before the influx of patients from the crash. He said after being deemed ready, the patients already there were either sent home or moved to a less-acute care setting.

To Reich, communication throughout the process helped turn what could have been a “really bad situation into a smooth process, and that really speaks wonders to the emergency community in Albert Lea.”

Shaft noted staff conduct tabletop exercises, and simulated victims sometimes train staff to be prepared for such situations.

“When the rubber hits the road, everyone knows what their role is and what they are doing, and take great care of our patients,” she said.

“It was just so awesome to watch everybody’s teamwork. And no matter if you were in the E.D. or not, our nursing staff that came from other units, their first question was, ‘Where do you want me? What do you want me to do? How can I help?’”

She spoke highly of the leadership Reich provided in the situation.

Mayo Clinic Health System spokesman Ricky Thiesse said if patients are in critical condition and need surgery after hours, “they would be sent to either Austin or Rochester,” depending on the need.

“That has been the norm for some time,” he said. “If during normal hours, (a) patient could be treated in either A.L., Austin or Rochester — again, depending on the severity of injuries.”

He said the hospital system either has a designated surgeon on location or on call, “if necessary.”

“So there still is coverage during the days, but all that depends on needs of (the) patient,” he said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Sam