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Cory Hurley
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Mock emergency tests Western Health staff, police, search and rescue teams

CORNER BROOK — There were no major red flags raised Tuesday evening during a code yellow mock emergency at the Corner Brook Long Term Care Home, according to Derek Tilley.

The manager of Health Emergency Management at Western Health actually played the role of an elderly gentleman who went missing from the facility in Corner Brook. He wandered down University Drive and fell over the snowy embankment on O’Connell Drive toward the Sir Richard Squires Building.

Following the missing person report within the long-term care home, an internal search of the four-storey facility was executed by health staff. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was notified of the possibility of a missing resident, and later it was confirmed the resident was presumed to have left the premises.

Police, with assistance of the Bay of Islands Volunteer Search and Rescue team, began an external search of the area. Tilley said it took about 50 minutes for him to be found after the outside search started.

The exercise was well executed, according to Tilley, and there were lessons to be learned by all parties.

As a result, he expects there will be improvements made by all organizations in the case of a real missing person. Although only a preliminary debriefing was held Tuesday evening, Tilley said communication was identified as the key to successfully implementing the policies and procedures in place.

A description of what the missing resident was last seen wearing is important in the search, he said, and an issue of radio communication between the ground search and rescue teams was identified.

“There were no major issues identified, certainly no major gaps or missing portions,” he said. “It was a very positive effort on everyone’s part, and I think everyone left feeling pretty good about it.”

With more than 230 residents in the long-term care facility, Tilley said it was important to hold such an exercise  to go through the “what if” scenarios. A risk assessment of such a facility would determine a real missing person situation is a possibility, he said.

“We do have some fairly physically active residents at the home,” he said. “It is considered their home, it is not an institution, so they are not going around in pajamas or hospital wear. They are dressed as if you met somebody walking down West Street.”

There are security measures in place for residents who tend to wander, but the facility is not under lockdown. The front door, for example, is open.

The internal search processes were tested as well as the partnership with the police and search and rescue unit externally. In adverse weather, such as Tuesday’s blowing snow and cold, it is important to initiate such responses quickly.

“At the best of times, those of us who are well and able-bodied would suffer on a day like (Tuesday),” Tilley said.

“Even more so for our residents — some of whom have pre-existing medical or physical conditions, but then even more so for those who may have dementia-like illness — that compounds the importance.”

He also hopes a mock emergency and review of the policies in place shows the families and loved ones of the residents that Western Health is doing its due diligence to ensure their safety.

There was a similar exercise conducted at the Bay St. George Long Term Care facility about a year- and one-half ago. Tilley said there were lessons learned then as well. He said such exercises improve policies for all long-term care homes and rural health centres throughout the region.

Organizations: Western Health, University Drive

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Bay of Islands Volunteer Search, West Street

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