Emergency Services: Here When You Need Us the Most

Open in Crisis. Santa Ana winds drove wildfire flames down Whiteface Canyon to within 300 yards of Simi Valley Hospital in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 26, 2003. The hospital, including the Emergency Department, remained open throughout the crisis to serve patients, although a few medically vulnerable inpatients were temporarily transferred to other facilities.

When you think about emergency response to a fire, earthquake or other catastrophe, the first images that come to mind are probably of firefighters, police officers or rescue workers. While these men and women, without question, are critical to saving lives, most of the responsibility of caring for the sick and wounded falls to the physicians, nurses and myriad other hospital employees who provide 24-hour emergency care, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“Hospitals are a vital component of the community’s infrastructure,” said Gregg Hartman, MD, Simi Valley Hospital chief of staff. “Hospital physicians and employees work closely with city and county public safety services — firefighters, police and sheriff’s officers and so forth — to complete the cycle of emergency response from rescue to recovery.”

Wildfires, Earthquakes and Beyond

In recent years, the Conejo Valley has been the location of a number of events that have required a large-scale emergency response.

“Simi Valley and Moorpark have experienced earthquakes, wildfires, and major train and automobile accidents,” said Marc Mendes, MD, medical director of Simi Valley Hospital’s Emergency Department. “Fortunately, the hospital has been well prepared to meet these emergency situations and to safeguard our community.”

One such event threatened Simi Valley Hospital itself. In 2003, wildfires came within yards of the hospital. Nevertheless, physicians, nurses and other staff members courageously held their ground to continue to care for patients until the crisis was averted a few hours later.

Simi Valley Hospital was also there for its community in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Under the precarious circumstances of strong aftershocks, fear and confusion, the hospital provided care for more than 4,000 people — approximately 300 of whom were treated for relatively severe injuries — in the hours and days following the 6.8 temblor.

In addition to providing care following natural disasters such as these — and treating everyday emergency needs — medical centers like Simi Valley Hospital now have to be prepared for acts of terrorism involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive weapons, as well as disease pandemics, such as the avian flu.

“The world has changed greatly since 9/11,” said Caroline Esparza, Simi Valley Hospital senior vice president and chief nurse executive. “Hospitals now have to be prepared for events that would generate catastrophic casualty loads. The good news is that, when a disaster occurs, we have a highly trained, specialized emergency staff who can respond quickly with outstanding medical care whenever our community needs us.”

Staying Prepared for an Emergency

Ready to Act. Christina Welsbie, RN; Kathleen Lee, RN; Lenette Saez, RN; and Chantel Noll, RN, are part of a specially trained and certified team of Simi Valley Hospital Emergency Department nurses called MICNs, or mobile intensive care nurses. MICNs answer radio calls from paramedics in the field, direct ambulances to specific emergency rooms and, when needed, make patient care decisions that paramedics are not allowed by law to make. MICN candidates must take a rigorous, eight-week course, culminating in a challenging certification exam. They are also required to take a number of additional classes every year to retain their certification. Lee (second from left) has been an MICN for 25 years, longer than any other MICN in Ventura County.

Planning and preparedness are key to Simi Valley Hospital’s success in responding to and recovering from a major emergency. The hospital maintains a cache of resources, including pharmaceuticals and equipment, that could become scarce in an extended emergency situation. To test and refine its preparedness efforts, Simi Valley Hospital participates with other area hospitals and related agencies in an annual countywide emergency simulation.

The hospital’s most important resource, however, is its emergency staff members, who have specialized training, licensing and certification to handle a broad range of emergency situations. Much of the department’s nursing staff is made up of registered nurses (RNs), many of whom carry the additional certification of mobile intensive care nurse (MICN). This designation allows nurses, via radio, to direct pre-hospital care with paramedics in the field and route ambulances to the most appropriate hospital for the care the patients require.

Emergency Department physicians are all residency-trained and/or board certified in emergency medicine. Their talent and experience are just the beginning of the medical expertise available to serve Emergency Department patients. An entire team of on-call physicians in a wide range of specialties — such as cardiology, orthopedic surgery, anesthesiology, general surgery, pediatrics, neurosurgery, internal medicine and obstetrics — are constantly prepared to lend their skills to the care of emergency patients.

Become an Advocate of Emergency Care

The number of uninsured and indigent people who use emergency departments for primary care (in place of a regular doctor) continues to grow, presenting an overwhelming financial burden for all hospitals. Unfortunately, this trend is a reality at Simi Valley Hospital.

Additional funds are needed to help us continue our legacy of being there when our community — you, your loved ones, friends and neighbors — needs us the most. A master plan has been created with local government and community support to increase the capacity of Simi Valley Hospital’s Emergency Department so we may better serve Simi Valley, Moorpark and the surrounding areas.

You can help Simi Valley Hospital’s Emergency Department through a financial donation to the Simi Valley Hospital Foundation. For more information about giving to Simi Valley Hospital, call the Simi Valley Hospital Foundation at (805) 955-8144.

Be Prepared

Let Simi Valley Hospital help you prepare for disaster. Learn how to create a disaster emergency kit.

Spring 2007