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Runnymede participates in largest simulated mass casualty emergency response exercise in Canada

GTA Unified is a mass casualty emergency preparedness exercise that took place in November 2019 involving 34 organizations including Runnymede Healthcare Centre. The activity, designed for health service providers, emergency response and government agencies, and paramedic and police services tested a health-system wide response to a complex mass casualty incident within the Greater Toronto Area.

Two mass tragedies in Toronto in 2018 – the Danforth Avenue shooting and the Yonge Street van attack – highlighted a need to review mass casualty response plans to include increased collaboration among health-sector focused organizations. GTA Unified was an opportunity for organizations to practice providing a coordinated response to manage an unexpected influx of wounded patients as well as a deluge of inquiries from families and friends

“Regardless of the policies and procedures in place, all organizations are at risk for crises as they become increasingly commonplace. This highlights the need to have a plan ready to guide a response in the event that a crisis occurs,” said Raj Sewda, Executive Vice President Clinical, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Nursing Executive.

Runnymede’s emergency codes, incident management framework and crisis communications plan help to minimize response time and support an efficient and accurate response during a crisis, which is typically time pressured. Having a plan in place can reduce the inevitable chaos associated with a crisis, save lives and support the continued delivery of essential services for patients.

Emergency codes are used by healthcare organizations to indicate on-site emergencies and situations that require an immediate response. While different hospitals may take different actions to address emergency codes, the definitions are standardized across the healthcare sector using a colour system set by the Ontario Hospital Association.

A code orange is used to denote an external disaster or state of emergency. As a rehabilitation and complex continuing care hospital Runnymede does not receive emergency patients. However, during a state of emergency — such as a code orange — the hospital may have an influx of the walking wounded and be asked to admit less critical patients from acute care hospitals to free up their beds to treat the seriously injured.

GTA Unified was a table-top exercise designed to evaluate a health system response to a code orange.

On the day of the exercise, a simulated emergency created a sudden influx of 300 paper-based casualties across all participating hospitals. Shortly following the arrival of casualties, over 600 paper-based family and friends began to inquire about the whereabouts and welfare of loved ones believed to have been involved in the incident.

While the activity provided a wealth of lessons learned and opportunities for improvement the exercise also highlighted what could be achieved through effective communication and collaboration.