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Tornado triggered emergency response at RVH

'We are ready for emergencies around the clock every day of the year — that’s just what we do,' says hospital president and CEO

Not long after cellphones in Barrie erupted with the emergency alert warning of a tornado on Thursday, the emergency department at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) got word from paramedics that there would be patients incoming.

“Knowing there was potential for zero patients or potential for 100 patients… we basically just look at the department at which patients need to be where,” RVH manager Sharon Ramagnano told BarrieToday.

A code orange was called across the Barrie hospital in the city's north end, alerting all staff on hand to remain in the building as it responds to an external disaster.

The staff in the emergency department took a quick assessment of the people there, looking for opportunities to quickly move patients who'd been waiting to go to acute-care wards and other areas of the health centre. 

They then prepared separate space outside of the emergency department, just in case.

Within 15 minutes, the emergency department was ready to accept however many injured people needed help.

Then a doctor and two nurses were escorted to the tornado scene to conduct triage, if necessary.

Much of it wasn’t necessary, however.

Emergency staff treated 10 people who'd been injured during Thursday's tornado in the city's south end, most of them with minor injuries; two were admitted but were released before the end of the weekend.

Paramedics were also able to handle requests for medical help near the tornado site, in the area of Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East.

But hospital officials say repeated training  which includes involvement from community partners such as local paramedics, police and fire department staff  meant they were ready for whatever was required of them.

“We are ready for emergencies around the clock every day of the year  that’s just what we do,” said RVH president and CEO Janice Skot. “We’re highly skilled and trained to handle emergency situations such as a tornado. And it took no time to erect our emergency operations centre, to get the emerg ready and send people to the site as much as we could.” 

The tornado had touched down around 2:40 p.m., July 15. Wind speeds had reached 210 kilometres an hour, according to the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

During a code orange, the situation is regularly assessed. At 6:30 p.m., about four hours after it was implemented, the code was called off, allowing RVH staff whose shift had ended earlier to leave, although emergency staff members were asked to stay another 30 minutes until shift change.

Skot said mock codes are called annually. Last year’s practice session involved evacuating the field hospital that had been erected in the parking lot to deal with extra patients during the pandemic.

Another year, they called a code silver training session, which deals with someone with a weapon within the hospital.

“These are things that we practise and practise so that when something does occur, like the tornado last Thursday, we just go right into action,” Skot said.

Recognizing that providing help to others is difficult for those who need help themselves, the Barrie hospital also reaches out to its own workforce in case they, too, are affected by the tornado and require help.