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October 5, 2009

Calif. medical simulation center trains health care students

By Donna Tam
The Eureka Times-Standard

ARCATA, Calif. — With a few keyboard strokes, Kindra Waluk, the manager of the Humboldt Bay Regional Simulation Center, can give her patient a heart attack, cause respiratory problems or make them urinate.

Soon, she may even be able to re-create childbirth.

Waluk's patients are actually high-tech patient simulators, mannequins programed to mimic medical conditions and react to treatments like real, live patients. She can make them speak and, using a computer program, she can even have the patient mimic certain symptoms in order to create a diagnostic situation.

The Humboldt Bay Regional Simulation Center — or HBRSC — is currently equipped with a male mannequin donated by College of the Redwoods and a 10-year-old boy named "Dillon," donated by Humboldt State University. It also has plans to acquire a birthing mother and a baby, and an advanced life support simulator.

Currently, the simulators are meant to provide training for high-risk situations in a safe setting for nursing students.

College of the Redwoods Health Occupations Director Pat Girczyc envisions the HBRSC evolving into a health and public safety training center. In the next phase of its five-year business plan, the center will train students and professionals in the nursing, paramedic, EMT, fire technology and allied health fields.

"The Humboldt Bay regional training center could also serve as a place where people get trained for disaster preparedness," Girczyc said. "I look at the center as a kind of health occupations flight simulator for students and working professionals."

CR is the lead agency in administering the grants and accepting fiscal responsibility for the center. Starting in 2006, CR began conversations with various intuitions such as Humboldt State University, St. Joseph Hospital, Redwoods Memorial Hospital and Mad River Community Hospital, to combine resources and establish the simulation center.

The health care providers were excited to help establish the center.

St. Joseph Health System is providing this year's funding for the center's facility, located in Bayshore Mall.

"Better trained staff translates to better patient care," said spokeswoman Courtney Hunt-Munther. She added that training from the center will also mean more experienced nurses coming from the programs at CR and HSU, since the simulations allow trainees to strengthen their clinical and critical thinking skills.

"It's extremely realistic," said Steve Engle, Mad River Community Hospital's Chief Operations Officer of ancillary services. "The dummies will talk back to you."

Engle said the hospital, which has both donated and loaned out equipment to the center, does extensive training with its staff, but never with this kind of technology. Having the center in Eureka will also mean being able to access training opportunities that they would otherwise only be able to have by sending people out of the area.

At last week's official grand opening, Waluk, who has taught nursing at CR and HSU and worked as a nurse in both Humboldt County and at Stanford University, programmed the center's male mannequin, "Stan," to have trouble breathing and then eventually experience a heart attack.

"I can't breath," Stan wheezed with a pre-recorded voice.

Additionally, Waluk answered the nurses' questions to Stan, using a microphone and speaker system.

CR second-year nursing students and an HSU senior sprang into action, paying attention to the patient's vitals and symptoms, speaking to him in a calm manner while quickly administering the appropriate treatments. During the simulation, the patient died, but the nurses revived him.

Afterward, the students reviewed the entire process.

Mikaela Bashaw-Downing, the participating HSU senior nursing student, said that she -- even in the last year of schooling -- has found the simulations to be a good learning experience and comparable to her actual clinical experiences.

Nursing student Dibah Dean, in her second year at CR, said being able to participate in the simulations does more than just give her training in emergency situations, or routine diagnosis.

She recalled one simulation addressing the death of a terminally ill patient by having her respond to the patient's grieving partner. The session was so realistic, the class ended with many students in tears.

"The regional simulation center is an opportunity for the community to share resources -- educational and economic -- to provide the North Coast with quality health care," Girczyc said.

With the funding cuts educational and medical institutions have been experiencing, combining resources is critical to the availability of good training, she said.

Additional community partners include North Coast Emergency Services, the Humboldt County Office of Education, the Arcata-Mad River Ambulance Service, and the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services.

Charlene Pellatz, the county's public health emergency preparedness coordinator, said there has been wide community support for this project. She said students doing clinical work in the area don't always have the opportunity to experience a variety of symptoms like they can at the simulation center.

"It's really phenomenal that this area now has that center," she said. "It's hugely important to us."

Copyright 2009 Times - Standard

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