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Jerry Malone Jr., a journeyman plumber with Plant Services, tests the water hoses outside the new decontamination showers. photo by Dana Johnson

Decontamination shower system revamped

BY: JERRY JONES

10/29/2004 - Vanderbilt Medical Center has improved its frontline system designed to keep the hospital safe in the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack or a hazardous materials accident.

Though not visible upon regular observation, a new emergency decontamination shower stands ready outside The Vanderbilt Clinic (TVC) that can decontaminate more than 100 people an hour. Decontamination typically consists of the person affected removing outer clothing and having to be washed down with large amounts of water. This protects the patient from further contamination as well as contaminating VUMC staff, other patients, and surrounding areas of the Medical Center.

The new shower area — moved from its former location in front of the adult emergency department due to construction on the new emergency department — consists of 10 shower heads mounted in the ceiling of the sidewalk. Large red tarpaulins drop down from the ceiling and are attached to the floor to create privacy (men on one side, women on the other). The showers follow the contour of the sidewalk, making a “V” shape towards a central clean area, with ambulatory patients entering from the right, and stretcher patients entering from the left. Patients then enter a clean triage area and can be directed to the adult emergency department, the pediatric emergency department, or a general observation area. The water is set at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The area is heated and well lit.

When not in use, the area converts back into a sidewalk and sitting area, with no visible sign that it could easily be converted into an emergency decon shower.

VUMC Emergency Preparedness Director Pam Hoffner, R.N., said the new location was “perfect” and would prevent overwhelming the adult and pediatric emergency departments.

Hoffner praised the work of the Plant Services Department, which performed most of the construction under the direction of Randy Howington, manager of the plumbing shop.

A hospital-wide drill to test the new showers will be held on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That drill will also test various department subplans, as well as the perimeter security plan.

Brent Lemonds, R.N., administrator over the Emergency Department, said the new shower area showed VUMC's “commitment to being prepared.”

“It's an innovative use of existing architecture,” he said. “And it hides it from public view, but can be set up in a matter of a few minutes.”

As the area's only Level One Trauma Center, Hoffner said it was important for VUMC to be prepared for any large-scale disaster.

“We would mainly use this for a large chemical event,” she explained. “If for instance, a bus was involved in an accident and the patients were covered with diesel fuel, we're able to have a person decontaminated and through the wash line within three minutes.”

Should a patient decon become necessary, the shower would be deployed and staffed by members from the emergency department as well as Vanderbilt Environmental Health and Safety (VEHS).

VEHS responds to any hazardous materials incident on campus, and provides all related hazardous materials training to faculty and staff.

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