Mass casualty training event held in Augusta

Beverly Snyder-Desalles eyed Cody Lomax’s bloody leg and torn clothes and gave him an extra squirt of blood from her spray bottle.


“Give ‘em a good, goopy experience,” she said.

Lomax, a nursing student and specialist with the Army, was playing the victim of a chainsaw accident as he lined up outside the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center on Thursday morning as part of a mass casualty training exercise that would test the hospital’s ability to respond to a sudden large influx of trauma patients. Like those who responded to the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, the medical center is trying to be ready in case the worst happens, organizers said.

Dr. Gina Piazza, chief of the Emergency Department at the downtown hospital, was lining up students from the licensed practical nurse training program from Fort Gordon to play either victims of a bad storm that caused a massive pileup on Interstate 20, or those who were transporting them or treating them.

“Who is patient No. 1?” she barked, before locating a young woman. “Do you understand your illness? Okay, I hope you don’t go into cardiac arrest.”

Around the area just outside the ER, George Wedig draws stares for the elaborate wounds he supposedly suffered when he crashed into a tree, consisting of fake blood and leaves and a torn shirt with bits of twigs that keep falling off and being reattached.

“Tree branch came through the windshield,” Snyder-Desalles said, giving him some more squirts of blood. Wedig is trying to stay serious about his role.

“I almost died today, sir,” he said. This wasn’t what Wedig was expecting to be doing with his morning. “I thought I was coming over there to give shots so this is a nice surprise.”

Sgt. Jacquelin Pierre-Louis, playing more of an observer role, has been through these drills before and is mindful of what could happen, such as what those first responders faced in Sunday’s shooting that killed 58 and wounded hundreds, and the need for training.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to use it,” he said.

Piazza is designating others to play roles that emergency personnel might encounter as they respond to such a disaster, including a “sneaky” Augusta Chronicle reporter who is to follow the victims into the ER surreptitiously. The “reporter,” Pvt. 2nd Class Carolina Perez, thinks back to Monday, when they came in for their clinical training and one of her instructors told them to get out their phones when they had a chance.

“Make sure you call your families because you don’t know what is going to happen in this world,” she said. Even though they are training for horrific scenarios like what happened, it still makes them take a step back, Perez said.

“What do you do?” she asked.

That is the point of the training, and really what working in health care means every day, said Robert Reeder, associate director of the medical center, who was serving as incident commander.

“You wake up in the morning, you know you are going to go into work, you don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “At the end of the day, you say, well, I wasn’t expecting that. You’re prepared for the unexpected and the unknown.”

That’s why the training is designed to look at how the system responds and includes other entities, such as AU Medical Center next door as well as others, Reeder said.

“Something like what happened in Vegas obviously exceeds their capability but that’s where things like triage and inter-organizational communication and working together come into play,” he said.

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