Hospital officials: Pa. bus crash response highlights value of training

Dozens of medical personnel sprang into action within minutes of a three-vehicle crash involving one fatality and more than two dozen injured victims

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

SUNBURY, Pa. — Dozens of medical personnel at two Valley hospitals sprang into action within minutes of Friday afternoon’s three-vehicle crash involving one fatality and more than two dozen injured victims on Route 147 in Chillisquaque Township.

Staff and administrators at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg and Geisinger Health System in Danville are required to prepare for these type of real-life accidents with regular mock drills and the practice paid off, they said.

“The more you practice the better you are,” said Tamara Persing, the chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing at Evangelical, which treated 30 of the 36 people injured on the tour bus.

It was about 2 p.m. Friday when Jose Ramon Molina-Lozada, 32, of Sunbury, crossed the double yellow line on Route 147, about 100 yards north of the Route 405 intersection, sideswiped a pickup truck and smashed into the tour bus containing 36 tourists from Australia and New Zealand who were headed to Lancaster County and then to Washington, D.C.

Molina-Lozada was pronounced dead at the scene.

As first-responders were getting to the accident site, medical personnel in the vicinity were learning of it and putting into action any resources they would need to respond.

“With big incidents like this” the state Health Department Knowledge Center management system helps medical personnel amass information about the emergency and assess what resources are needed, said Stephanie Gryboski, director of emergency management for Geisinger which treated six of the more seriously injured accident victims.

The Knowledge Center is monitored regularly. “Communication is critical,” she said.

Evangelical Community Hospital Vice President and Chief Operating Officer William Anderson got word of the accident from hospital paramedics on the scene and 15 minutes later the hospital’s Incident Command System kicked in, alerting staff that multiple victims needed medical attention, he said.

Emergency room staff immediately began moving patients to other areas or releasing them to make room as officials set up a “war room” where they discussed how many accident victims they could treat.

“Initially, we said 9,” Persing recalled. Learning that the injuries were not life-threatening, they decided to take 30 of the less severely hurt. “The response was tremendous. We knew we could do this. We had the support of all levels of operation.”

Not knowing what the true extent of the injuries or whether the victims were able to speak English, medical staff throughout the hospital, including surgeons and nurses from other departments, language interpretive service personnel and even an intern, who drove two hours, responded.

The staff in the emergency room at Evangelical quickly swelled from 15 to about 45, said John Devine, vice president of Medical Affairs.

He was nearing the end of his shift when the accident happened and was there when the first victim, a male, arrived with facial injuries.

“This impact was very forceful,” he said.

One victim had to be transferred for surgery and CAT scans were necessary for several to determine the extent of the injuries, Devine said.

Patients were treated in the ER, waiting room and conference rooms, said Persing.

In the meantime, victims of an unrelated crash, as well as other medical emergencies, arrived needing the same level of attention, she said.

“The medical staff came together for this,” said Devine, adding that staff from other departments stayed on the clock to offer help.

There was a little levity amid the tragedy when Evangelical staff learned that one of the patients from the tour bus was celebrating a birthday.

Somehow, staff was able to deliver a cupcake and balloons, said Persing.

Anderson credits hospital staff and the community with making the tragedy manageable.

All of the patients treated at Evangelical Community Hospital were released on Friday evening. The last bus passenger hospitalized at Geisinger was released on Monday.

While the tour bus has continued on to Washington, D.C., Persing and Gryboski said staff will be reviewing their responses to the accident.

Unfortunately, medical personnel at the two rural hospitals are well aware that they have to be prepared for a mass-casualty tragedy at any moment since they are situated near major highways and in areas where high-volume events, such as the Little League World Series, are held.

“There are always opportunities to improve,” said Gryboski.

The response to Friday’s accident at Evangelical will be reviewed, but Anderson said he finds “huge comfort” knowing staff throughout the hospital were willing to offer aid.

Copyright 2018 The Daily Item

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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