Health Centre updates code orange protocol

The Houston Health Centre is updating their policy for code orange (mass-casualty) emergencies.

The Houston Health Centre is updating their policy for code orange (mass-casualty) emergencies.

“As a health care system, we have small hospitals in these rural communities, so to be prepared for a mass-casualty event is not an easy feat,” said Cormac Hikisch, health service administrator for the east cluster of Northern Health.

“We put a lot of effort, with the ambulance and others, into tooling up and creating processes and plans so that we can ramp up as quick as possible… and respond appropriately,” he said.

Hikisch says big emergencies like code orange don’t have just a one facility response.

“We light up the corridor…Smithers to Prince George,” he said.

With Northern Health updating the regional code orange policy, the whole region is reviewing and updating their protocols, said Sally Sullivan, site coordinator for the Houston Health Centre.

Sullivan says they update their protocol and contacts yearly, but this is a more thorough review of the policy.

“It’s been a really good review of it this year,” she said, adding that it included things like going through facilities to decide which patients would go where based on urgency.

A big part of the Houston protocol is getting people triaged (ranked according to urgency) on site and brought to the Health Centre, and then stabilizing those in need of urgent care and sending them via ambulance to Smithers or Burns Lake, said Sullivan.

She says the Houston and Smithers code orange protocols are tied together, both ready to give support to the other in a code orange emergency, providing staff or taking patients where needed.

“It would be really tight communication between Houston and Smithers if it happened in either place,” Sullivan said, adding that they would likely touch base every half hour to an hour.

The Ambulance, RCMP, Fire Department and District of Houston are all involved in a code orange, so a big part of the policy is sorting out different roles, Sullivan said.

She adds that because of the small size of the Houston Health Centre and numbers of staff, there doesn’t need to be very many people injured to be a code orange.

Walking through the process for a code orange, such as a Houston mill explosion, Sullivan said the response would depend on the situation and the number of doctors available.

She says that once the report comes to the Health Centre, she would notify several others including the Smithers hospital,  and then she would figure out the number of staff needed and how long they’d be needed for and call them in.

“You can’t have all your staff come in if you know it’s going to last for three days,” she said.

Sullivan says patients would all come through the same doors, be triaged by a nurse and delegated to an area in the Health Centre, and those in need of urgent care would be stabilized and transported to Smithers.

She adds that there has never been a code orange in Houston that she knows of, and though they have never done specific code orange training, they have done mock drinking and driving accidents at the high school two or three times in the last five years.

The mock accident response with the Fire Department and RCMP is a good way of testing and refining protocols, said Sullivan.

Having started the local policy updates in December, Sullivan says Houston’s policy should be fully updated by the end of the summer.


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