Incredible STARS Mobile Education Unit visits Esterhazy

When people in Saskatchewan think of STARS, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, they typically visualize those bright red helicopters coming to the aid of the victims of an auto accident. But there’s another side to STARS, one that is better known to medical professionals, and one that is absolutely incredible.

They call it the STARS Mobile Education Unit, and today it visited St. Anthony’s Hospital in Esterhazy. So what is the MEU?

To begin with, you have to think of a more lowly form of transportation than a helicopter. But think BIG, think of a full-size motor home! Now, forget everything you know about motor homes. Sure, it looks the part from the outside, even if it is festooned with special decals and titles, but climb into it via the automatics steps, and you enter a very different world.

Inside, the MEU is set up to simulate the environment of something between a hospital emergency room and an operating theatre. There are charts on the walls, a bed in the middle, a variety of computer monitor displays and various other accoutrements of the medical profession. There’s also a dummy on the table, but this is no ordinary dummy.  You see, the unit doesn’t just simulate an emergency room, it also simulates a patient.

So, before I go any further, I stress this is a dummy. The reason I say that is to prepare you for the pictures that accompany this article. I stress again, this is a training exercise and this is not a real person, it is a dummy. Mind you, it’s a dummy that reacts to the actions of the medical staff, it even speaks to them, shudders, and coughs. In short, this is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in nearly five years of being a journalist!

At the very back of the vehicle there’s a control room with even more computer monitors and live-feed television screens. This is the heart of the simulation. From this booth, an operator runs the program to simulate specific health conditions of the mannequin. Meanwhile, the monitors in the emergency room show the condition of the patient, everything from heartbeat to blood pressure, respiration and much more.

This is where it really gets interesting. The doctor in charge of the unit begins to explain the current condition of the patient, but his students are not mere trainees. In the two study sessions I witness, the teams include two of our Esterhazy physicians, EMS personnel, RNs, LPNs and other medical professionals from our area.

Their instructor is Dr. Kish Lyster. He’s one of the “flying doctors” for STARS and he also runs their sim programs. In addition, he’s a practicing adult hospital medicine physician out of Regina, and he’s also the Medical Director for The Dilawri Center, a facility that delivers programs for university medical students and physicians across the province. He’s teamed up with Denise Treavean, a highly-experienced and competent Critical Care Nurse who has worked in hospitals in Regina, and has now joined the STARS program.

After Dr. Lyster explains the condition of the patient, it is up to the assembled team to go to work, determining the course of action to do everything possible to save the patient. It’s obvious that a chain of command is set up first, and then teamwork begins in earnest. There are check lists being followed as patient assessment continues, and then a variety of emergency procedures are carried out on the mannequin.

All the way through the process, Dr. Lyster is watching the actions, carefully listening and making suggestions based on his massive experience. Some suggestions come as a surprise to the team, reflecting cutting-edge knowledge, understanding and practice. Meanwhile, the team is playing it for real. When one of our local doctors asks the dummy “How are you?” it responds with the comment, “I can’t breathe!”

The patient may be simulated, but the care and professionalism is hauntingly real. Meanwhile, Denise sits in the control room, making sure the patient, and the displays the patient is hooked up to, reflect every move and every new procedure. She turns it up a crank, the patient’s condition is becoming critical.

After a while, the medical team has succeeded in saving the life of their simulated patient. There are a few sighs of relief, and these are not simulated! Then comes the debrief as Dr. Lyster runs though the actions performed, asking questions, drawing out answers, and adding points of clarification. It has been an incredible learning experience.

Even before one team leaves the MEU, another arrives. They catch the tail end of the de-brief, and then as they take their places around the mannequin, Denise introduces herself to the newcomers, going on to explain what they are going to be part of.

In the meantime, I catch up with Dr. Lyster and gain an even greater appreciation for this innovative program. The reality is this, no matter how brilliant and effective the STARS helicopters are, they can only do so much because they are limited to fleet numbers, personnel, and operational capabilities. On the other hand, the reach of the MEU is almost limitless because it is disseminating cutting-edge knowledge to many hundreds of medical professionals across the province. It is little wonder that Dr. Lyster exudes an almost infectious enthusiasm for the program. In Esterhazy alone, there were somewhere between 16 and 20 study sessions planned through the day.

The MEU program is fully funded and therefore can be offered free to emergency care providers in rural communities. One of the main financial supporters is RBC, and in a written communication their Regional Vice President, Don Morris, offered the following statement.

“RBC is proud to support the STARS Mobile Education Program to educate and train emergency medical care providers like physicians, nurses and paramedics who work outside of major centres. Together, through responsible community investment and partnerships with outstanding organizations like STARS, we can make a difference in communities, large and small, where we are privileged to operate.” RBC gifted half a million dollars to the MEU program when it was launched in 2013, and has so far donated $1.2 million to STARS in total.

We salute RBC for their support of this innovative program, and of course commend all those involved in operating, administering and staffing the Mobile Education Unit. While it might not have the glamour and glitz of the red helicopters landing at the scene of an accident, make no mistake about it, this program is also a life-saver that the people of this province can be very thankful for.

Now, to the galley of images. Many of these pictures were taken as one of the teams worked to “save” the simulated patient. Remember, this is a simulation, no life was at stake. Also remember, while the patient was simulated, the care being given and the procedures being undertaken were very real. Had the dummy been a real person, the people you see in these pictures would have saved a life today!

Open the gallery by clicking any image.

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