Every year on Kodiak Island, the common cold – known locally as the “Kodiak crud” – spreads among city residents. But imagine if a more serious illness or disease entered the population.
Like ebola, which spreads through bodily fluids.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is running a simulation this week to see how a rural community in Alaska would handle an outbreak of ebola, and it chose Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center to conduct the exercise.
A nurse pulls on a third set of gloves. She’s wearing a hood with a rectangular window to see through, and it’s covering a plastic hood that comes with her body suit. She wears a respirator on her back that clears the air of germs, but that’s the only place fresh air will enter.
Beneath a smock of blue plastic, she’s secured the edges of her gloves to her suit using duct tape. There are also shoe coverings over her shoe coverings. Around her, hospital employees prep the emergency department for the patient’s arrival.
Someone sets up a curtain over an interior door and installs zippers so that people can pass through.
They also spread a plastic sheet over the carpet at the main entrance.
Emergency Program Manager with the State’s Division of Public Health Charles Pelton said they’re preparing for what’s called a “wet patient.”
“She’s close to having vomiting and other things and, by designating her as a wet patient, you probably may be aware that she will become a wet patient shortly,” Pelton said.
The patient’s role involves simulating whatever symptoms go along with her condition.
When the ambulance pulls up, the patient climbs out wearing sweat pants and a tank top, with red splotches covering her face, neck, and arms. There are dark circles under her eyes.
Hospital employees escort her to a room where her two plastic-wrapped nurses are ready to examine her.
The patient tells them she went on a mission trip to Africa about a week ago.
“My whole body hurts,” the patient said.
During a break in her performance, Felicia Roberts goes over the contents of a few small bags she holds in her lap.
“This is essentially, like, vomit with blood in it,” Roberts said. When asked what it’s made from Roberts said, “Brownie batter with food dye, and then this is watered down chili.”
Roberts’ character later passes away as a test to see how staff handles the remains.
In a room downstairs, the incident command team keeps twists like these running according to plan.
Pelton sits with his computer and cellphone in front of him, ready for the next email or text that comes through. He says the State of Alaska received a grant to train and prepare for infectious diseases, like ebola, which he said would be “insidious” in the case of an isolated community like Kodiak.
“We’re able to take care of those things, we’re able to practice those lessons that we’ve learned so that in communities like this, and in Alaska overall, we’ll be able to take care of events like this when they come up,” Pelton said.
Pelton said after they complete the entire simulation, they’ll decide what they did right and wrong and how they can improve, and they’ll share the results with hospitals in the rest of the state.
The simulation in Kodiak continues over two days with two separate patients, one who will be transported to Anchorage.