St. Vincent’s Chilton holds active shooter drill

Published 12:20 pm Friday, June 8, 2018

By J.R. Tidwell / Editor

Staff at St. Vincent’s Chilton in Clanton partnered with members of local law enforcement and emergency management personnel to hold an active shooter drill at the hospital on June 7.

The drill was held to help hospital workers learn how to handle such a situation as well as aid authorities in learning the layout of the facility in order for a quicker response should the need arise.

“We had a situation where our pretend active shooter came in through the emergency department, and then made rounds,” said St. Vincent’s Chilton administrator Suzannah Campbell. “Obviously, our staff had panic buttons which they can press which calls law enforcement out. He made his rounds throughout the hospital. We went to the outpatient clinic, our lab, our med service floor and our ICU just to see how staff would respond and react.”

For Campbell, the drill meant much more than just presenting a hypothetical scenario. She was an employee at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham when 38-yeard-old Jason Letts of Jemison shot a police officer and two members of hospital staff before being fatally wounded during the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 15, 2012.

“That is something that obviously hit home with me,” Campbell said. “I want to make sure all of our staff have thought through the scenarios and know how to respond; to run, hide, fight. That’s what we train our staff to do. If you are in a situation where you can get out, that’s what we want them to do.”

The drill also comes just a few months after an employee shot two people before turning the gun on himself at UAB Highlands Hospital in March.

“It’s something that everyone thinks about,” Campbell said. “You see what happens in our schools and what happened at UAB Highlands recently. We just need to be able to be prepared as much as possible. It’s not something that you ever want to think about, but the more you run through those scenarios in your mind and can do drills like this the more prepared you will be if it happens.”

Chilton County EMA director Derrick Wright helped coordinate the drill and was on hand at the hospital when the scenario was carried out.

“Initially what we are doing is to be able to train our law enforcement and our hospital staff how to respond to an active shooter together,” he said. “We have active shooter scenarios that we run in schools. Those are different than it is in a hospital. In a hospital scenario we have patients that we have to take care of, and we can’t just abandon our patients.

“If you have a patient in surgery and the staff steps out, that patient could end up dying. So we have a unique situation where we have to train not only our staff, but also the hospital as well to do things like barricading doors and being able to protect themselves. We have to look at different avenues, like if a fire alarm were to be pulled, how to get access to doors and things like that.”

Wright went over the process local authorities would take in responding to an active shooter situation.

“In a real-life scenario, our police would make entry,” he said. “The first (officer) on the scene would go in first. After that we try to get our EMS (Emergency Management Services) guys in quickly. In the hospital it is a bit different because we can have our staff in here helping us and taking care of the wounded immediately if they are able to safely.

“One thing we have to train for differently here is we have a lot of controlled access rooms and areas that we have to learn how to get around. There are a lot of hallways and backways. Our law enforcement officers need to be able to be here and move around in a stressful situation. They need to be familiar with the hospital in case there is a real-life scenario.”

Wright said holding drills like this one “help a lot” when it comes to emergency preparedness.

“This was a joint effort through the local emergency planning committee,” he said. “We have our local EMA, a state EMA representative, Clanton Police Department, Clanton Fire Department, the Sheriff’s (Office) and Care Ambulance Service.”