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Malmstrom participates in Ebola exercise

Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn Arteaga, 341st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy technician, is loaded into the back of an ambulance by a Benefis Health System emergency responder during an Ebola exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. The exercise was performed in conjunction with Great Falls Emergency Services, Great Falls Fire/Rescue, the Great Falls Clinic, Benefis Health System and the Cascade City-County Health Department. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn Arteaga, 341st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy technician, is loaded into the back of an ambulance by a Benefis Health System emergency responder during an Ebola exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. The exercise was performed in conjunction with Great Falls Emergency Services, Great Falls Fire/Rescue, the Great Falls Clinic, Benefis Health System and the Cascade City-County Health Department. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

Airman 1st Class Samantha Collins, 341st Medical Operations Squadron pediatrics technician, uses a remote communication and monitoring system to talk with a medical technician during an Ebola exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. As part of the exercise, various clinic personnel acted in first responder, medical aid and communication roles to support hand-off of the simulated Ebola patient to the proper facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

Airman 1st Class Samantha Collins, 341st Medical Operations Squadron pediatrics technician, uses a remote communication and monitoring system to talk with a medical technician during an Ebola exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. As part of the exercise, various clinic personnel acted in first responder, medical aid and communication roles to support hand-off of the simulated Ebola patient to the proper facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

Lt. Col. John Weatherwax, 341st Medical Operations Squadron pediatric nurse, suits up with the proper safety attire before caring for a simulated Ebola patient during an exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. During the exercise, Weatherwax acted as the primary caregiver for the simulated Ebola patient and had to be in full protective gear. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

Lt. Col. John Weatherwax, 341st Medical Operations Squadron pediatric nurse, suits up with the proper safety attire before caring for a simulated Ebola patient during an exercise at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Clinic Nov. 25. During the exercise, Weatherwax acted as the primary caregiver for the simulated Ebola patient and had to be in full protective gear. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- To be prepared for the worst of circumstances takes an extreme amount of dedication and training. Routine exercises are key elements to proper organization and when the time comes, their implementation can pay dividends to handling a situation properly.

For Malmstrom Air Force Base, the recent implementation of a high caliber Ebola exercise served to help first responders and medical personnel learn proper procedures in the event of a real-life situation.

"We developed an integrated response plan using Department of Defense guidance and in collaboration with our partners downtown," said Staff Sgt. Leslie Baccus, 341st Medical Support Squadron laboratory technician. "Our plan includes appropriate levels of personal protective equipment, biohazard waste management, partnering with our medical community, training team members, standing up a Medical Control Center, etcetera.

"We want to be prepared for a patient who may come to our clinic with symptoms of Ebola," she continued. "Our healthcare workers and the general population must be protected while we try to provide the best possible care to the patient."

In the exercise scenario, an Airman who recently returned from a deployment to Sierra Leone visited the Malmstrom Clinic with a fever. It had been 19 days since her return and her duties while deployed took place in a country where the risk of contracting the deadly virus was significantly higher than most other places.

The exercise began when the patient stepped up to the counter and informed a medical attendant of her situation. Immediately following, the man behind the counter handed her a surgical face mask and asked her to follow his associate to an isolation room where she would be cared for.

From that point, the exercise went into full swing. First responders and medical personnel geared up in full biological suits, while facilities with a higher level of appropriate care were informed that a possible Ebola patient would need transportation.

For nearly an hour, the clinic's medical personnel worked together to care for the simulated patient while emergency services arrived. During that time frame, handling, communication and transportation procedures were practiced with swift precision.

Team Malmstrom members and local emergency responders worked hand in hand to pull off an exercise with many moving parts. The exercise was performed in conjunction with Great Falls Emergency Services, Great Falls Fire/Rescue, the Great Falls Clinic, Benefis Health System and the Cascade City-County Health Department.

"Working with our local community was crucial to ensure the patient got to the right level of care," Baccus said. "It was really great to see all the pieces of the puzzle come together.  There are so many things going on at the same time during a potential Ebola situation and everyone needs to know their role."
 
The joint exercise served as a culmination of several separate internal drills the Malmstrom Clinic performed after the real-life Ebola situation in Texas. 

For the clinic and the local community, this is only a start to developing a long-term plan. According to participants of the joint exercise, the procedures already set in place through their training will allow them to handle this type of situation immediately and effectively if the problem ever arises.

"Practicing just allowed everyone to work through the process in a realistic way," Baccus said. "The process is continuously evolving and getting better. We'll make needed changes and continue to practice until we get it perfect."
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