Our colleagues at The Medical Center of Aurora, Aurora, Colo. and Swedish Medical Center, Englewood, Colo., know firsthand the extraordinary teamwork required to respond effectively to the call, “Code Green.” Their advanced expertise, unfortunately, has not been gained solely from practice drills and staged mock disasters, but from a mass casualty at an Aurora movie theater shortly after midnight on Friday, July 20. A senseless shooting spree by a lone gunman left 12 people dead, and 58 wounded needing emergent or immediate care.
HCA’s family has responded over the years to most major natural and man-made disasters in the nation’s recent history. In addition to the care provided to the Aurora victims, our hospitals have rendered aid and treated patients injured in the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings, the shootings at Virginia Tech, as well as a number of tornadoes, floods, wildfires and Hurricanes Andrew, Rita, and of course, Katrina.
“Disaster plans are ongoing, meticulously-scrutinized sets of action steps and highly-detailed processes our people rehearse, commit to memory, and pray never have to be activated. Our Colorado colleagues have shown remarkable commitment and courage in their unified response to this national tragedy. We add our thanks to those of a grateful community,” said Richard M. Bracken, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
In the first moments after radio dispatchers notified hospitals that a mass casualty had occurred in Aurora, preparations began. The hospitals were told to expect up to 30 patients each. In anticipation, both the Level I (Swedish) and Level II (Aurora) trauma centers activated disaster plans.
In addition to the trauma surgeons, in-house trauma teams and other staff who are always at the ready, additional physicians and staffers were notified to report to their hospital according to pre-established disaster protocols. But many other employees, who were not summoned, also went directly to their respective hospitals to lend aid.
According to Linda Kanamine, vice president of public affairs and marketing for HealthONE, “We know that when our nurses in the community learned of the event, they grabbed their scrubs and came to work without being asked. It was the same with other clinical workers, administrative staff, housing and food service staff, volunteers, and others. Some Aurora Emergency Department physicians recall looking up and seeing a bunch of nurses they didn’t know or recognize, but all were working like a well-established team.”
Swedish received four victims at their emergency department. Three with gunshot wounds arrived immediately following the shooting and were taken to surgery. A few hours after the event, a woman came to the hospital looking for a friend and was found to have shrapnel injuries. She was treated and released.
Aurora received 18 patients and all but three were gunshot wounds. In all, seven patients were admitted – four to the intensive care unit (ICU). There were no fatalities.
On Friday and Saturday, 5 additional patients went to Aurora’s free-standing ER at Centennial Medical Plaza with minor injuries, anxiety, or symptoms of chemical exposure (burning, irritation) similar to that seen in tear gas exposures. All were treated and released.
Both trauma centers set up family rooms separate from their Emergency Department Waiting Rooms. They called in chaplains, patient advocates and social workers to provide emotional and logistical assistance to families and patients. Less than an hour after activation, Aurora also had a psychiatrist available for its EMS providers.
At both hospitals, veteran staffers said the April 20 1999 shooting at Columbine High School provided “a big learning experience.” Consequently, every hospital receiving patients assigned staff to communicate with the other area hospitals regarding patient lists. This enabled hundreds of callers to get quicker information about their family members. Reports indicated that even with additional operators, the switchboards were overloaded, but all performed a great service by helping callers find patients amidst a chaotic situation.
Shooting survivors admitted to the hospitals have had numerous high profile visitors, including members of the Denver Broncos football team. Quarterback Peyton Manning could not be there, but made personal telephone calls to many patients.
Actor Christian Bale, who portrays Batman in the “The Dark Knight Returns,” the movie being screened at the theater at the time of the shooting, spent hours at Aurora visiting patients on Tuesday, July 24.
Janie Bowman-Hayes, assistant vice president of surgical services at sister hospital Swedish Medical Center, said she and co-workers were attending a luncheon at The Medical Center of Aurora to thank staff who tended to victims. “He just said he wanted to come to thank all of us because he has been thinking about this. He knows the whole world has been thinking about this,” she said. “He took it upon himself to come and thank us.”