Ready to respond
A look at Yuma Regional Medical Center’s decontamination room
Every year, between 25 and 40 people will be brought to Yuma Regional Medical Center after having been exposed to a dangerous chemical, according to YRMC director of System Safety and Security Mark Hutsell.
This year, the hospital is geared up for such events with its decontamination room, located within the Emergency Department.
As the winter months draw ever closer, Hutsell noted the importance of having such a room readily available, as a large number of the people typically exposed to potentially dangerous substances tend to be farmworkers, he said.
According to the National Center for Farmworker Health’s 2014 agricultural profile of Arizona, it is estimated that there are 10,374 migrant workers within Yuma County. The estimates also show that there are 27,626 seasonal workers, not including dependents.
“We’ve had a lot of farmworkers before that maybe get a drift from a field where they are doing aerial spraying or they go into a field that’s been sprayed and they were not aware and they were exposed,” Hutsell explained in an interview with the Yuma Sun.
While many people who have been contaminated at the hospital have been from the local farmworker population, Hutsell said members of the public could potentially expose themselves to dangerous chemicals during accidents or misuse within their own homes.
In those cases, Hutsell said those with exposure should call 911 immediately to enlist the help of Emergency Medical Ser-
vices (EMS) rather than transporting themselves to the hospital.
Those who are brought to the hospital with exposure, however, are taken directly to the decontamination room, as it has both an external and internal entryway large enough to fit gurneys in the case for exposed individuals who may be ambulatory or unable to move.
Hutsell said the procedure then involves the removal of their contaminated clothes, which are bagged up and contained.
Following clothing removal, Hutsell explained those who were exposed then go through a process of decontamination with hospital staff, which can include security as they are trained for such an occurrence. Low pressure showers are used to avoid further skin irritation that shower heads with a higher pressure may cause. Temperatures of the water are also not to become too hot as the heat opens the pores and can further exasperate the condition.
“We provide them with some Dawn liquid soap to basically wash from the top down,” Hutsell said. “Once that’s done and they are dried off they go into the emergency department and begin the medical assessment and treatment.”
Hutsell said a nurse will always be present in the decontamination room observing should a medical emergency occur during the decontamination process.
Hospital personnel always wear specialized clothing for protection during the process, he added.
The decontamination room was implemented into the YRMC Emergency Department which opened in December of last year. Thus far, Hutsell said it has not had to be utilized.
Prior to the addition of the decontamination room, Hutsell said the hospital used an outside unit for such needs that is smaller than the current facility with less capabilities.
“We are really lucky to have this room,” Hutsell stated. “There are not a lot of places that have a dedicated decontamination room.”
Some hospitals, he said, utilize exterior tents for decontamination which can be time consuming to set up in the case of an emergency or large scale event.
YRMC’s present decontamination room has the capability of handling four denominations at one time and contains two handheld shower stations which creates ease for use.
“We have the ability with the room to change from positive pressure to negative pressure, meaning that if we have a chemical material in this room-like those that are volatilized and could potentially harm other individuals-we can keep that isolated in the room by drawing all the air in the corridor into the room where it’s filtered and exhausted so we don’t have to worry about any of those vapors getting out of the room,” Hutsell said.
Hutsell noted the room contains an underground storage tank so that none of the water that comes off the decontamination can make it into the “sanitary sewer system.”
“It’s all contained underground and then we would have the tank pumped out after it becomes full,” Hutsell explained. “We can monitor the tank levels in the security department and we get notifications on certain levels and if it is beginning to fill up.”
Hutsell said the tank is large enough to handle many decontamination incidents before it begins to become full.
The room also features an eye wash station, a floor covered with epoxy for sealing purposes and to keep anything from getting on the walls, which are made of a solid surface so that there are “no gaps or breaks that would allow chemical materials to get through them,” Hutsell added.
“The funny thing about the room is I think it shows real emphasis on the hospital’s part to be prepared for rare events,” Hutsell said. “It sits unused most of the time but when you need this, you really need one that is functional and works well for the community. When those 30 people come in that have been contaminated — to be able set it up quickly and bring those people through decontamination quickly so they can receive medical care — that is really what we are about is being here for the community and being prepared.”
THE DECONTAMINATION ROOM located within Yuma Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department.
LEFT: THE EYEWASH STATION IN Yuma Regional Medical Center’s decontamination room located within the Emergency Department. RIGHT: Yuma Regional Medical Center Director of Safety and Security Mark Hutsell poses for a photo within the hospital’s decontamination room located within the Emergency Department.