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Health Students Help Doctors, Nurses with Disaster Drill

Emanuel Melendez appeared weary and ill when he walked in.

“I’m so weak and the nausea has been so bad,” he told Dr. James Barron, an internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health.

Barron checked Emanuel in at the entrance of Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences before directing him to join dozens of other “patients” stricken with similar symptoms in a lobby transformed into a triage area for. Soon, the “ill” were transported to makeshift hospital beds.

Emanuel, a Grand Rapids Public Schools student in Kent ISD’s Health Sciences Early College Academy, and other students from the academy and volunteers pretended to suffer poisoning from anthrax-laced food at the Kenny Chesney concert downtown.

A trial run

The mock disaster drill, the first of its kind at the Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences, tested the preparedness of local healthcare officials and facilities in the event of a disaster. Students in the HSECA program, along with other volunteers, served as patients and transporters for real healthcare workers.

Kathrine Branch, GVSU health compliance officer, said it was a trial run for the facility. The Cook DeVos building has been identified as an alternative care site for Spectrum Health in the event of a community disaster or widespread infectious disease. If area hospitals reach full capacity, the building can open five 50-bed nursing subunits. Students participated in the drill from admission to discharge, and also helped set up beds.

Rosemary Cruz, from Sparta High School, worked as a “transporter” leading patients from triage to beds. She said participating in a drill under pressure was a good experience for her future career in psychiatry or neurology. “I think it will help me with teamwork and doing things in a setting I’m not comfortable in,” she said.

Manny Martinez, Health Sciences Early College Academy instructor, said it’s also a chance for students to understand everything going on behind the scenes, and how to set up a hospital from scratch.

The academy, with a location in the Cook-DeVos building, offers high school juniors and both actual experience healthcare settings, and enrolls them in college, where they earn up to 14 free credits to help them get started. Other locations for the program are Central High School in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and next year, the new Downtown Market.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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