Simulation prepares campus for Ebola crisis

Students dressed in coveralls, blue gloves and face masks rushed to help those frantically calling for help during an Ebola disaster preparedness simulation Saturday at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies. The simulation aimed to train students on the procedures for disease emergency protocol.

The training was set up as an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. to provide realistic experience on how to perform during a widespread, uncontrollable emergency.

Before the simulation, students were trained on recommended protocol from the Center for Disease Control. They also learned about Ebola symptoms, the history of the outbreak in West Africa and its progression in the U.S. To conclude the training session, they participated in the emergency exercise.

“I think it’s important to practice and simulate things that pose a real-life threat, like the Ebola situation going on in the United States and all over the world, and making sure that you’re prepared and that you can eliminate any risk or injury,” said Hannah Lubner, a senior majoring in health science who participated in the training.

Participants were given note cards upon arrival stating symptoms and the role they were assigned.

To begin the simulation, patients waited outside of the hospital, coughing and pretending to vomit as they asked nurses for help and awaited their screenings.

“You could be as extravagant as you want, anywhere from fake vomiting to coughing, to yelling and screaming,” said Joshua Gruber, a senior majoring in public health who was given the role of a patient. “It got pretty interesting. There was a tangible sense of disaster.”

The nurses then proceeded to screen the patients by asking about their symptoms and directing them inside the emergency room. Those with Ebola symptoms were screened first and then isolated. The nurses carefully examined the patients and tried to maintain order while agitated patients waited to enter the emergency room.

Lubner played the role of someone believing they were infected with Ebola to cause chaos. A memorable part of the training for her was witnessing the nurses dressed in protective suits and masks assisting her.

“The nurses were wearing the Ebola suits, which are pretty striking,” she said. “That was interesting to see, the precautions that they took.”

Students volunteering as Ebola patients were solicited from the UM Theatre Arts department, the health studies department and student associations. Neither the patients nor the nurses knew the roles they would be playing prior to the event.

“It was very difficult to manage people in a chaotic situation, but it was fun,” said Kimberly Collins, a senior who participated in the exercise. “I definitely learned a lot.”

Nena Peragallo, dean of the nursing school, stressed the importance of such training.

“We want to make sure our students will be ready for anything they encounter,” Peragallo said.

Through the simulation, nursing students learned infection control procedures not only for Ebola, but also for any disease outbreak.

Summer DeBastiani, a nursing school lecturer who organized the event, said the skills taught are usable in any emergency situation.

“We are teaching very transferable skills like infection control protocol, taking good histories and screening,” DeBastiani said. “These are skills that students can use and learn and take with them in the future to make better leaders out in the community.”

The Coral Gables Fire Department also participated in the simulation, bringing in a suspected Ebola patient at the end of the exercise. Firefighters practiced disease control procedures while wearing protective masks, coveralls and gloves. Outside, they practiced safely removing the gear and spraying a decontaminating solution on each other.