“Have a party shot here. I need rescue hot.”
“Engine 8, we may have a second victim.”
Then a crescendo of calls:
“People who are shot are running out of the theaters.”
“We have multiple victims. Activate the EM system. We need to know exactly how many patients these hospitals can take.”
In all, 12 movie goers were shot dead and dozens wounded by a gunman in a gas mask and body armor at a midnight screening of “Batman” last July. The Aurora, CO, theater where it happened was only 20 minutes from Littleton, where 12 Columbine High School students were murdered by gun-wielding fellow students in 1999.
Ironically, Columbine was indirectly credited with saving many more lives in Aurora because the region’s hospitals drilled regularly over the past decade for a repeat.
Following the Aurora shootings, UCHealth handled 23 victims, with 18 others going to the Medical Center of Aurora and seven more to Denver Health Medical Center.
Paige Patterson, RN, a Relief Hospital Manager at UC Hospital, recreated that night in an emotional presentation at TeleTracking’s annual client conference, TeleCon.
“Even though you drill for something like that, you are initially overcome by shock and disbelief that it could actually be happening again so close to home,” Patterson said. “But then the drilling kicks in and you have to address reality.”
The crush of victims with head, back, torso and leg wounds would have been overwhelming, Patterson said, without the help of TeleTracking’s automated Capacity Management Suite™ system. The system’s patient placement indicators (PPIs) gave UC personnel the ability to register the Aurora shooting victims under the same code – “Disaster.” This “attribute” stayed with all of them throughout their stay and wherever they went. Staff members were able to assemble patient spreadsheets on the aggregation, “helping everyone involved in this process,” Patterson said. She gave credit to TeleTracking’s tech support, which answered her 4 a.m. call that night to help activate the specific details she needed.
In subsequent interviews, doctors from several area hospitals said their approach to such catastrophes had been transformed by lessons from the Sept. 11 attacks and shooting rampages such as Columbine. UC Hospital holds a monthly drill to test its response to various disasters, according to Richard Zane, MD, the UC chief of emergency medicine.
“So… when this happened, although no one expected there was going to be mass gunshot victims, this was not the first time anybody had thought about how they would act,” Zane said.
“Multiple patients arrived at the same time, including two, three and four per vehicle,” Zane said. All had penetrating gunshot wounds, many to the abdomen or chest, “places where you need to be in the operating room very quickly in order to survive,” he said. All the patients needed blood. Many had perforated and collapsed lungs that needed to be rapidly expanded. Many could not breath on their own
“We activated a hospital-wide mass casualty response,” Zane said.
“What it’s specifically changed is not necessarily triage… but that there is the capacity and the preparedness for mass-casualty care. It’s now part of vernacular of every hospital and every emergency department,” he said.
“Initial local resources were overwhelmed,” Zane says. “There’s no question the level of preparedness saved lives.”