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Preparing for the Worst: St. Luke’s team, Chesterfield emergency responders conduct mass shooting drill

Dr. Michael Klevens [center, wearing black scrubs] conducts a debriefing with St. Luke’s team members after the drill.

On. Sept. 13, more than 20 people suffering from gunshot wounds were rushed from the Maryville University campus to St. Luke’s Hospital. Of course, their wounds were only makeup and “moulage,” a term for creating lifelike injuries to make training situations seem more real. It was a mass casualty drill – the first of its kind conducted at St. Luke’s – based on a scenario of students being attacked by a gunman in a mass-shooting event, similar to the recent tragic incidents that took place in Las Vegas and Orlando. 

In addition to St. Luke’s Emergency Department, surgical, medical and nursing teams, the drill included Monarch Fire Department and Chesterfield Police Department personnel along with volunteer “victims” from Maryville.

“The public needs to know that we are looking at these things and getting detailed processes in place in case – God forbid – something like this were to occur,” said George Salsman, St. Luke’s Hospital’s manager of safety/emergency management. After both the Orlando and Las Vegas shootings, most victims were brought in cars to the nearest hospital, so St. Luke’s must prepare for a similar situation even though it is not designated as a trauma center, he added.

“Just because we’re not a trauma center doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be ready,” Salsman said. “We have lots of events taking place nearby, from Friday night football games at Parkway West and Parkway Central to concerts at the Chesterfield Amphitheater … we need to be prepared to handle any serious event that could take place in the Chesterfield area.”

The drill was designed to test the hospital’s crisis response procedures across its emergency, radiology, laboratory and surgery departments. Part of the test was that St. Luke’s medical team didn’t receive any advance warning about how – or how many – wounded people would be brought in. 

“We didn’t know what was ahead of us … All of a sudden three young women ran screaming into the ER. They were made up to look like actual gunshot victims. We were certainly surprised to see that,” said St. Luke’s Medical Director, Emergency Services Dr. Michael Klevens.

St. Luke’s Hospital medical team members triage a “wounded” patient during a mass shooting drill conducted on Sept. 13. [St. Luke’s Hospital photos]

When the first “victims” began arriving, a call went out within the hospital for all surgeons to come down to assist, along with doctors, nurses and other personnel, Klevens explained. A triage area was quickly set up just outside the emergency department to prevent overcrowding inside the hospital. 

Klevens said patient triage was the hospital staff’s most important duty during the drill, as it would be during an actual mass-casualty event. Those determined to have the most serious injuries were transferred to “surgery” immediately, while others were sent for further testing. The “walking wounded,” who could wait longer for treatment, were moved to a secondary area.

Chesterfield Police officers set up a perimeter around the ER as well as other hospital entrances. Their role was to secure the scene and control the flow of concerned family members, potential volunteers and others. Monarch Fire Department officials were also on hand, to observe the drill and make suggestions for specific improvements, as well as to create community standards for patient triage and treatment.

The drill was considered a success by everyone involved, both St. Luke’s officials agreed. “Usually these drills are set up to fail – but this one went very well, and we got a lot of valuable insights from it,” said Salsman.

Although the September drill was the first to focus on a mass shooting, St. Luke’s already drills regularly to prepare for weather-related events such as a tornado, earthquake or major power failure. The team also practices for handling multiple injuries which could result from a major traffic accident in the Chesterfield area.

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