Memorial dons ‘game face’ when mass shooting unfolds last week

Memorial Hospital Central received six patients who were directly or indirectly affected by the shooting
Dec. 2, 2015

Minutes after a lone gunman opened fire, an emergency alert went out at Memorial Hospital: “Active shooter reported in progress at Planned Parenthood. Unknown victim total at this time…”

With that alert, Memorial readied for victims of the shooting that was still unfolding five miles away. Within minutes, more than 20 people from Memorial and UCHealth were on a conference call preparing for injured.

Susan Almquist-Baldwin, director of perioperative services, took the lead at Memorial and established a semi-formal incident command along with Larry Tremel, director of pharmacy; Joe Foecking, director of rehabilitation services; Jarad Muasau, director of Imaging Services; and Nathan Mesnikoff, director of spiritual care; and Cindy Corsaro, emergency preparedness and security manager.

From Denver, Carolyn Sanders, UCHealth’s chief nursing officer; and Dan Weaver, director of communications for UCHealth; and Pat Conroy, manager of Facilities Management for University of Colorado Hospital, offered valuable insights from the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012.

“We were closely monitoring the situation. What are we hearing? What are we expecting as far as number of patients? How many teams did we have? How many operating rooms, physicians and nurses were available? How many beds were available in the ICU and on the floor ?’’ Almquist-Baldwin said. “In the operating room, we operated like the well-oiled machine that we are.’’

House nursing supervisor Terry Tuttle and nurse Pat Ducklow, who spent hours with the family of one of the most seriously injured, organized compassionate care for families.

As the standoff played out on national television, Memorial’s Public Relations team became inundated with media calls. On Friday and in the days following, the team answered an estimated 250 inquiries from the media.

By the time the standoff ended more than five hours after it began, Memorial received six patients who were directly or indirectly affected by the shooting. Three people died – a University of Colorado Colorado Springs police officer and two civilians. Twelve others were injured. One patient remains hospitalized at Memorial.

“It was a very stressful situation being on the phone for five hours as the incident continued. We had some minor glitches with Incident Command, but as far as patient care, that was never an issue. Staff were ready to go. Without significant guidance or direction, they were ready to go. Folks had their game faces on and they were ready to take care of patients and each other,’’ Corsaro said.

Susie Cochran and Emily Ensminger, clinicians at Memorial Hospital, enjoy Jimmy Johns sandwiches that were delivered to the emergency department after the shooting.

Through much of the day, the hospital teamed with police officers and representatives from the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.  Media gathered outside. A woman who lost two sisters in the New Life Church shooting in 2007 raised money and ordered food from Panera Bread for staff. Jimmy Johns also sent sandwiches in the days that followed.

One of the victims who was treated and released at Memorial spoke to a reporter from KOAA News 5 and the Gazette on Friday evening. That footage was then provided to media outlets across the globe.

Mesnikoff from Spiritual Care walked through the hospital meeting with staff and families to check on their wellbeing.

“I was really impressed with how well everyone responded. People were compassionate and professional. I heard one of the ED nurses saying that groups were playing well together who don’t always play well together. Penrose and Memorial were working well together and different agencies worked well together. The community came together to respond to the crisis and care for the injured,’’ Mesnikoff said.

“Most of the time we didn’t know that this was not going to be even more tragic than it was. That was part of the real difficulty – you just don’t know. It took so long for the shooter to be contained, and we didn’t know once he was contained if we were going to get 30 more patients. We just didn’t know,’’ Mesnikoff said.

Mesnikoff, who teaches stress management for Memorial employees, said that in a crisis, it is important for employees to manage their stress actively.

“In the moment, do intentional stress management – take deep breaths, pause for a moment, relax your shoulders and jaw, recognizing that the tragedy is happening but you are not personally in danger in that moment. You see someone who has been harmed or injured, you see everything on the news and  it is easy for your own fight or flight reaction to kick in. So, you need to remind yourself that this is serious, and you need to respond, but unless there is an actual immediate threat to your own safety, consciously relaxing your muscles and letting that adrenaline go will actually help you perform better with less chance of a negative reaction after.’’

“Stress management really has to be an ongoing practice. It’s not something you only do when you have a traumatic event. It really has to be. If you decided that Thursday night, you were going to stay up late going out with friends, or playing a video game. No, I don’t need to be too sharp tomorrow.

“You just never know with our kind of work – you never know when it’s going to be a quiet day or the worse day we’ve ever seen. And so you always have to be maintaining yourself.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.