Northern Cochise Community Hospital is a small critical-access hospital, with 24 inpatient beds and six emergency room beds, in rural Willcox, Ariz., in the southeast corner of the state. We serve a regional population of about 7,000-10,000 persons.
We are required to meet all CMS Emergency Preparedness requirements as larger hospitals with more resources, but no hospital ever has that “enough resources.” As a CAH, our staff are accustomed to “wearing several hats” to just meet daily operational needs.
We are also in a moderate risk area for HAZMAT hazards, being in a heavy agriculture industrial area combined with interstate and rail transportation straddling Willcox. In the past couple of years, we have had to activate our hospital decontamination team several times for real incidents.
We need to be able to tap into as many regional preparedness programs as possible. Our regional healthcare coalition AzCHER has been a very good source in our preparedness programs, to include purchasing a VHF antenna system for the hospital’s new ED radio system (donated by local Sunsites-Pearce Fire District) that allows for communication with local EMS providers.
Cochise County Emergency Services and the county’s public health emergency management have been very proactive, especially in providing training. Last April we were able to get a FEMA mobile training team to the county and conduct their HERT (Hospital Emergency Response Team) course; we put six NCCH staff through this course. We also take advantage of the regional training courses sponsored by the state Division of Emergency Management and FEMA, such as the Incident Command System courses and the Public Information course, which are no cost for us, just staff time. We are also going to take advantage of the free training provided by FEMA at their Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala.
We don’t have a lot of staff, and turnover of people, like at all hospitals, has an impact on preparedness. Training is thus perpetually ongoing, just to maintain acceptable levels of preparedness. If it was not for the no-cost training opportunities mentioned, it would likely be too costly to provide equivalent training for our staff.