Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 8, 2014)—The School of Nursing and Health Studies was transformed into the Emergency Department of a Miami-Dade County hospital, as nursing students donned personal protection equipment (PPE) recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to treat Ebola patients. The “patients” were actually volunteers recruited from UM student associations, local community organizations, and other groups to assist with a simulated Ebola crisis. Each simulated patient was given a list of different signs and symptoms, such as stomachaches and vomiting, to act out.
The exercise was designed to ensure the school’s graduating seniors are confident and capable in the transferable skills of proper infection control and disease screening techniques. On hand to observe the preparedness drill were UM President Donna E. Shalala and Dean Nilda (Nena) Peragallo Montano, both public health experts.
“This simulation scenario takes infection control from an abstract concept to a concrete learning experience,” Peragallo Montano said. “We are using a real-world situation, the Ebola epidemic, and turning it into a teachable moment for our students. Everything they are learning is absolutely generalizable to prevention of other hospital-acquired infections, which are a public health issue.”
The exercise evaluated the students’ patient-screening, clinical decision-making, and infection control skills, as well as their ability to interact with emergency first responders who transferred suspected Ebola patients. To help achieve this last aim, City of Coral Gables firefighters worked in tandem with the students. The fire department utilized the practice run to exercise its own protocols for transferring people suspected of having Ebola to local hospital emergency rooms. Both students and firefighters practiced “donning and doffing” protective equipment using specifically established steps to avoid contamination.
According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of the people infected with Ebola die. People contract the deadly disease via direct contact with an infected person’s blood and body fluids. Due to their close contact with patients during diagnosis and treatment, health care personnel are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Directing the simulation activity was SONHS faculty member Summer DeBastiani, a disaster preparedness expert who came to UM this past fall from the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
“A simulation like this is the last step in a process that provides students with the education needed to handle a specific situation,” DeBastiani explained. “Before the drill, we prepared the students with informational lectures on the history of the West Africa Ebola outbreak, signs and symptoms of Ebola, its treatment and epidemiological management, as well as CDC and Miami-Dade County protocols and guidelines for protection of health care providers caring for persons under investigation for Ebola. All current senior nursing students at our school will complete this training before graduating.”
The simulation was developed using the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program method, a capability-based exercise methodology that allows for different disaster response personnel to work together to exercise plans and protocols. At a post-event debriefing session, known in emergency preparedness jargon as a “hot wash,” participants discussed lessons learned during the exercise. The feedback will be used to develop the After-Action Report and inform the next disaster simulation activity.