Preparing for Disaster in the High Country

ER-Trauma (8)The disaster scenario is too familiar for rural Teller County.
An ill-planned ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) excursion in the high country has turned ugly. A middle-aged male (let’s call him Matthew for this particular story), is suffering from life-threatening injuries including a ruptured spleen and possible spinal cord trauma after flipping his ATV on a steep trail off Hwy. 67. The victim is reeling in pain.
The survival clock is ticking with Matthew having lost a massive amount of blood. He is also having a hard time breathing, and the blockage in his lungs seems to be getting worse.
Hwy. 24 has been shut down due to inclement weather and Flight for Life helicopters have been grounded, making a transport to a major hospital in Colorado Springs impossible. Matthew will live or die based on the skills of local emergency responders and trauma specialists.
The accident victim is rushed into the emergency center of the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital. He is wheeled into a trauma room equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, including special ultra-sound imaging and diagnostic devices, allowing the victim to receive an infusion of blood much quicker than by traditional methods. The equipment also provides a quick insight into his condition.
A staff of ten – including nurses, medical assistants, physicians, x-ray technicians and trauma specialists–work in a prompt but efficient manner to stabilize the patient and to prepare him for surgery. Matthew is designated as a Trauma One patient, representing the most serious of accident victims in the high country. They need surgery almost immediately following their mishaps.
The pre-op is over within 20 minutes from the time the ambulance arrives outside the PPRH emergency center’s doors. Thumbs-up are given between team members following the process, as Matthew has a good chance of survival, although he probably won’t be returning to the ATV trails for a bit.
“I like your system,” said David Hamilton, a trauma surgeon and veteran physician for the Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. “This went very well.”
Luckily, this incident wasn’t real and represented a mock training exercise, with a manikin used as the victim. More importantly, it amounted to the first training exercise ever conducted jointly by Pike Peak Regional Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.
The timing couldn’t be better with these types of coordinated efforts necessary to facilitate the hospital’s growing demands.
A New Record
Since opening its doors in Oct. 2007, the hospital’s emergency center has experienced a huge increase in patients and overall business. In fact, for this month the hospital’s emergency room center will set a new record by treating more than 700 patients.
The reasons for so many trauma and emergency center visits are endless, according to Sherilyn Skokan, director of patient care services and the head trauma nurse coordinator for the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital and Surgery Center.
And one fact remains certain: Teller County is a magnet for outdoor recreation-related injuries, whether they consist of hikers, ATV enthusiasts, cyclists, tourists, casual walkers or retirees. “We get so many ATV accidents,” admitted Skokan, who classified the state of the patient in the recent trauma exercise as not that unusual.
ATV buffs are flocking to Teller County for its abundance of trails and access to the Pike National Forest. And with the influx, the number of accidents rises accordingly. “There is a wide range of reasons for these accidents,” admitted Eric Riggle, the marketing and public relations director for PPRH, who cited inexperience as a common cause.
Cycling accidents also are big in Teller with some horrific results. “I am amazed at how badly people can get injured from bike accidents up here,” said Hamilton, who attributes the seriousness of these injuries to the mountain terrain. Hamilton, who hails from Houston, Texas admits that cycling accidents there paled in comparison to the mountain areas in Colorado.
And with the location of the hospital and its role in serving a rural area, PPRH must prepare for the inevitable worst-case scenario reality. Such as when transportation to other major centers for critical care is impossible.
With the hospital’s growth and its increase in services, PPRH is commanding more attention as a good emergency outlet for those who suffer unexpected accidents. “A lot more people are aware of what we have to offer,” said Riggle.