Sanford Health official: "We look at ourselves as being in a constant state of readiness"

(FARGO) – Health systems across America plan and train for events like a mass casualty incident, hoping that they never have to use the knowledge they learn.

On days like July 14 in Fargo, health care systems could have been dealing with something much worse. Three police and one civilian had been shot, followed by the shooter, and they were all transferred to the hospital. Two officers – Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes – were hospitalized, and Officer Jake Wallin passed away, all in Sanford Hospital.

Matt Van Voorhis, the Director of Enterprise Emergency Operations at Sanford Health, says the hospital is ready for such mass casualty incidents. They train many times a year – including this past February, where they simulated multiple patients coming to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

So, when July 14 came, the health system was ready.

“We look at ourselves as being in a constant state of readiness,” Van Voorhis said. “Being a level one trauma center, and serving such a big footprint that we do, especially in the Red River Valley, we have to be ready in a moment’s notice.”

He says the hospital system has multiple facets in its mass casualty plan – a plan in which was partially put into place on July 14.

“Part of the plan is activating our incident command team, which is in charge of overseeing the response hospital-wide to a mass casualty,” Van Voorhis said. Other clinical and support staff are sometimes activated, including clinical staff, security, communications staff and other internal staff as needed.

Van Voorhis said that, while a mass casualty event is a serious situation – the health system “just can’t shut off our hospital and say we’re just going to deal with this event.”

“We have to also be ready for that, on top of the event that we are dealing with,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that, every year, we’re really drilling down and exercising every part of this plan, because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ something like this is going to happen; it’s ‘when’, and we need to make sure that we are ready for that as Sanford Health.”

When it comes to a mass casualty, or some other large-scale incident, multiple agencies are working together, Van Voorhis said.

“A lot of time we’re working with Fargo PD, Fargo Fire, Essentia Health, the City, the County and the State,” he said. “We can’t do this alone. Thank you to our communities that we serve, and especially thank you to all of our response partners, because when we do these exercises and drills, it’s not just us.”

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