Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) resources are overwhelmed in disaster as the need to accommodate influx of critically-ill children is increased. A full-scale chlorine overexposure exercise was conducted by the New York Institute for All Hazard Preparedness (NYIAHP) to assess the appropriateness of response of Kings County Hospital Center's (KCHC's) PICU surge plan to an influx of critically-ill children. The primary endpoint that was assessed was the ability of the institution to follow the PICU surge plan, while secondary endpoints include the ability to provide appropriate medical management.
Thirty-six actors/patients (medical students or emergency medicine residents) were educated on presentations and appropriate medical management of patients after a chlorine overexposure, as well as lectures on drill design and expected PICU surge response. Victims presented to the hospital after simulated accidental chlorine overexposure at a public pool. Twenty-two patients with 14 family members needed evaluation; nine of these patients would require PICU admission. Three of nine PICU patients were low-fidelity mannequins. In addition to the 36 actor/patient evaluators, each area had two to four expert evaluators (disaster preparedness experts) to assess appropriateness of global response. Patients were expected to receive standard of care. Appropriateness of medical decisions and treatment was assessed retrospectively with review of electronic medical record.
The initial PICU census was three of seven; two of these patients were transferred to the general ward. Of the nine patients that required Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission, six actor/patients were admitted to the PICU, one was admitted to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), one went to the Operating Room (OR), and one was admitted to a monitored-surge general pediatric bed. The remaining 13 actor/patients were treated and released. Medical, nursing, and respiratory staffing in the PICU and the general ward were increased by two main mechanisms (extension of work hours and in-house recruitment of additional staff). Emergency Department (ED) staffing was artificially increased prior to the drill. With the exception of ocular fluid pH testing in patients with ocular pruritus, all necessary treatments were given; however, an unneeded albuterol treatment was administered to one patient. Chart review showed adequate discharge instructions in four of 13 patients. Nine patients without respiratory complaints in the ED were not instructed to observe for dyspnea. All patients were in the PICU or alternate locations within 90 minutes.
The staff was well versed in the major details of KCHC's PICU surge plan, which allowed smooth transition of patient care from the ED to the PICU. The plan provided for a roadmap to achieve adequate medical, nursing, and respiratory therapists. Medical therapy was appropriate in the PICU; however, in the ED, patients with ocular complaints did not receive optimal care. In addition, written discharge instruction and educational material regarding chlorine overexposure to all patients were not consistently provided. The PICU surge plan was immediately accessible through the KCHC intranet; however, not all participants were cognizant of this fact; this decreased the efficiency with which the roadmap was followed. An exaggerated ED staff facilitated evaluation and transfer of patients.
During disasters, the ability to surge is paramount and each hospital addresses it differently. Hospitals and departments have written surge plans, but there is no literature available which assesses the validity of said plans through a rigorous, structured, simulated disaster drill. This study is the first to assess validity and effectiveness of a hospital's PICU surge plan. Overall, the KCHC PICU surge plan was effective; however, several deficiencies (mainly in communication and patient education in the ED) were identified, and this will improve future response.
. Waterworks, a Full-Scale Chemical Exposure Exercise: Interrogating Pediatric Critical Care Surge Capacity in an Inner-City Tertiary Care Medical Center. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2014;29(1):1-7.