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9/11 results in better patient safety, preparedness

Mike Waldal, director of plant operations and safety at Palmyra Medical Center, left, reviews the security monitors with Chuck Mitchell, the hospital's emergency preparedness and security coordinator. Increased security measures throughout the hospital were installed as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Mike Waldal, director of plant operations and safety at Palmyra Medical Center, left, reviews the security monitors with Chuck Mitchell, the hospital's emergency preparedness and security coordinator. Increased security measures throughout the hospital were installed as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

ALBANY — Following the terrorist attacks that took place in New York and Washington a decade ago, federal grants were issued to various entities, including hospitals, to ramp up security and emergency preparedness.

The hospitals in Albany took advantage of that money.

One of the first things Palmyra Medical Center did was establish access control to sensitive areas of the hospital, including labs.

Prior to 9/11, natural disasters were the only things hospital officials were worried about.

“Before then, we didn’t worry about these things,” said Mike Waldal, director of plant operations and safety at Palmyra. “Now there is more participation in emergency preparedness.”

A one-day course was offered for those at the hospital, which also included a terrorism assessment to get an idea of where the facility’s weak spots were.

Other events that have influenced increased safety measures in hospitals, officials say.

“After the Oklahoma City bombing, we no longer allowed cars parked in front of the building,” said Chuck Mitchell, emergency preparedness and security coordinator at Palmyra. “People are also becoming more aware of suspicious people and packages.”

Since the possibility of a terrorist attack is on people’s minds, reports of such activity are taken more seriously. “There is a heightened awareness of everything,” Mitchell said.

Overall, officials believe a lot of good things have come out of these incidents.

“Now it is more about being on the defensive,” Waldel said.

Federal funding has also helped pay for decontamination training, which provides instruction on how to set up a response effort and how to react to a bioterrorism attack — something else that was virtually unheard of here before 9/11.

“We can take care of ourselves before the Hazmat (hazardous material) team gets here,” Mitchell said. “(Increased emergency preparedness) has really increased communication between the two hospitals, and has helped them step up for each other.

“It has brought people together like never before.”

It has also created more of a secure and confident atmosphere at Palmyra in that the number of security cameras have increased tenfold from four to 40, and that officials have the ability to shut the hospital down at any time.

Additional cots are also on hand to accommodate mass casualties, and emergency drills are held more frequently.

“If a disaster comes in, we can handle it,” Mitchell said. “You can tell it has impacted hospitals. The entire staff knows how to respond. It’s been a good education for everyone.

“When people are trained for a disaster, they are less likely to panic. They automatically know what to do. They are already trained, so they are ready to respond.”

This is preparation that benefits more people than those working or being cared for in a hospital.

“Area businesses will want to do drills for themselves,” Mitchell said. “They want to know how hospitals will handle an influx (if an incident occurs).”

Being more aware of hospital surroundings than ever before has helped Palmyra better serve patients, and has taught officials to be on guard and more patient when it comes to educating people about emergency preparedness.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Mitchell said. “It can be a domestic terrorist, or a foreign terrorist. It can be anybody.

“We can assure patients have a safe environment so they can concentrate on getting well, and staff can focus on taking care of patients.”

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital learned, specifically from 9/11, that hospitals need to be prepared to treat mass casualties that can overwhelm emergency rooms — and also to ensure that emergency plans have an all-hazards approach in order to be prepared for any type of disaster.

“The biggest thing for us was that emergency management changed drastically,” said Denise Pardue, emergency preparedness coordinator at Phoebe. “We have to be prepared for any type of disaster.”

On the safety and security front, there were more cameras and security monitors put in place at Phoebe following 9/11 — and they also perform regular drills.

“We keep employees informed,” Pardue said.

Also, more Segways were purchased so security personnel could have better visuals of the parking lot. Officers also make rounds through parking areas and throughout the Phoebe campus.

“The world we live in is changing. You have to be more vigilant due to the times we live in,” Pardue said. “We are not just talking about terrorism, but regular crime.

“It’s a common sense approach that 9/11 changed the way we view things. I think it’s impacted every business.”

Pardue added that emergency preparedness is something that is continually changing as procedures are reviewed on an annual basis.

The key is to always be prepared.

“Any steps you take to improve upon emergency preparedness is going to have a positive impact,” Pardue said. “We need to come together and learn from events that happen.”