Trauma doctors, nurses constantly drill to handle mass shooting cases


The heinous shooting that unfolded in Las Vegas Sunday night once again reaffirmed that mass violence can happen anywhere. For area doctors and nurses tasked with treating victims of it, the goal is to always be prepared.

“We have drills on a regular basis,” Palmetto Health Richland Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Phillip J. Prest said. “We have mass casualty drills, we have active shooting drills. Once every month or two we do some version of a simulation where we try to picture the worst case scenario and do our best to work through those evaluations.”

The Columbia hospital’s 24/7 trauma ward takes in and treats critical patients from around the Midlands. Prest says because of that the ward is always fully staffed with a trauma surgeon as well as nurses, physician assistants and respiratory and physical therapists.

“Additionally to that we have a full complement of a backup service involving other surgeons who can come in at a moment’s notice and are always available to help,” Dr. Prest said.

Back in September the trauma unit at Palmetto Health Richland had to treat nine patients at once when a gunman opened fire in Columbia’s Vista. Prest says the ward was able to handle that influx of patients with regular staff and no backup teams were required.

Meanwhile, Prest added that the trauma bays themselves are fully-equipped to diagnose and stabilize patients quickly before they are moved to other areas of the hospital for surgery or other care.

Dr. Prest says in most cases the number one priority for staff is to stop any traumatic bleeding that can come from gunshot wounds.

“As we’re doing this and figuring out what needs to happen next door there’s a cooler that actually has blood and blood products in it. So for our patients who are bleeding, we can actually start blood transfusions right here,” he said.

“Decisions have to be made rapidly,” Prest added. “We can try to assess a patient and make a determination as to their survivability options versus how severe or stable they are in a matter of seconds.”

Hospital staff says that Palmetto Health Richland also does a lot of educational outreach with the public to teach the basics on how to control traumatic bleeding. Officials say more people knowing how to compress wounds and tie tourniquets can help save lives in the event of a mass shooting.

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