At Mass General's Center for Disaster Medicine, a recent preparedness exercise included drills involving laboratory procedures that would be used to deal with Ebola specimens.  

April 26, 2019. Noon: A blue cooler containing specimen samples is wheeled to the Microbiology Biothreats Laboratory in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Jackson Building. It is in this 283-square-foot room where, for the next three hours, a group of laboratory technicians will carefully and efficiently test the samples for possible Ebola virus disease as well as other labs that will help direct patient care.

“What we have to do is practice a different way of doing things so when there is an actual event, our clinicians will know just what to do.”

The scenario is one of the Center for Disaster Medicine’s (CDM) monthly exercises, and the drill is as close to a real-life situation as possible.

“The lab is a vital yet often unseen component of our program,” says Eileen Searle, MPH, RN/NP, CCRN, Biothreats Clinical Operations program manager in the CDM.

Knowing What to Do

Akita Joshi and Derek Bielawski – both senior medical technologists and newcomers to the drills – properly sterilize and label all specimen containers in the hood before transferring them through the airlock chamber into the negatively pressured biosafety cabinet. It is in this cabinet that all specimen testing will occur, preventing exposure to any airborne pathogen.

In addition to training staff members who have not taken part in a drill, the lab leadership and CDM staff assess and update processes based on feedback from this and previous drills. These included new methods of donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), effective transport of the medical waste after testing was complete, ensuring labels do not wipe off the tubes and that all information flows seamlessly into Epic.

“We aren’t teaching clinicians how to be clinicians,” Ms. Searle says. “What we have to do is practice a different way of doing things so when there is an actual event, our clinicians will know just what to do.”

The work of Mass General's Center for Disaster Medicine includes helping to train other hospitals for the dangerous job of evacuating after a disaster.
The work of Mass General’s Center for Disaster Medicine includes helping to train other hospitals for the dangerous job of evacuating after a disaster.

Preparedness and Emergency Management

The Mass General CDM oversees all preparedness and emergency management efforts at Mass General. It helps Mass General and other hospitals and healthcare partners anticipate, plan and train for, practice and respond to, and recover and learn from disaster events.

The CDM is comprised of a team of physicians, nurses and administrators with decades of expertise in healthcare emergency management, emergency medical and surgical care and security. They are also experienced with hazardous materials, biothreats, and health system operations.

For the hospital and the community, the center works to continually improve and enhance the hospital’s readiness for disasters and emergency situations of all types. It does this through effective training and exercise efforts, critical review of internal and external events, and the ongoing development of innovative new research and response programs.

To learn more about how you can support Mass General’s Center for Disaster Medicine, please contact us.

This story was first published by MGH Hotline.