Hospital staff simulate emergencies with lifelike dolls

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comJuly 7, 2014 

Nurses at Mercy Medical Center rushed to the aid of a man who seemed to have stopped breathing. At first glance, the patient looked like an adult male in his mid-30s, but with a closer look one would realize that the man was not real, but was in fact a very lifelike simulation doll.

The highly interactive doll is one of five simulation mannequins used by medical professionals for in-house staff training and educational purposes.

The simulation mannequins, or SIMs, as they are often referred to, blink, breathe, bleed, cry, cough and scream. They have a realistic size and appearance, and as of Monday they also have names.

According to Lisa Wegley, executive director of the Mercy Foundation, several names were taken into consideration, but those that were picked have great significance to the hospital staff.

“The naming of our SIMs became very personal,” said Wegley. “We had lots of great suggestions, but we decided to keep it within our hospital family and commemorate people who have made a difference or have had some impact on our hospital community.”

“SIM woman,” who is used predominantly for training at the Family Birth Center, was named Lori, after Lori Buendia, a labor and delivery nurse who died in 2013. According to Rebecca Cates, director of the center, Lori was instrumental in starting the SIM program. She dedicated several decades to health care education in the community and led the way in lactation and breastfeeding instruction. The mannequin can be programmed to simulate birth and different emergency situations such as a retained placenta and an inverted uterus.

“In maternal child health, 100 percent of our staff have gone through the simulations for the last two quarters,” Cates said. “Others (departments) are on the same path to start that, so that once a quarter they will interact with these simulation tools on a set scenario.”

“SIM man” was named after hospital president David Dunham, who will be retiring in December after 10 years at Mercy and more than 40 years of working in health care. This SIM is used for training in every area of the hospital, Cates said.

Similarly, “SIM Junior,” which represents adolescents and is mainly used in pediatrics and the emergency room, was named Robert in honor of recently retired obstetrician-gynecologist Robert Small.

“Doctor Small was a phenomenal instructor and delivered many generations here in Merced. ... He even delivered me 46 years ago,” Cates said. “This is just one way to honor him.”

“Baby SIM,” which is representative of children up to a year old, was named Alice after a former pharmacy staff member. Alice, an employee for 35 years, was also known as the “mother of the pharmacy.”

“She was kind and gracious even while battling cancer,” said pharmacy director Brian Elmore. “We never let her go, even if it meant she only worked two hours a day; she was always there. She fought the good fight.”

The youngest of the mannequins, “newborn SIM” was named Isabel, after Isabel Ortega, the youngest stroke survivor identified by hospital staff. Isabel, now 18 months old, is the daughter of emergency room clinical manager Alex Ortega. According to Ortega, Isabel suffered a stroke at birth after a sudden breaking away of her mother’s placenta. The newborn SIM is used in the neonatal resuscitation program designed for the stabilization of newborns in the delivery room.

“This is a nice gesture,” Ortega said about the foundation and staff naming the newborn SIM after his daughter. “Sometimes people forget about honoring our little people, so this is nice.”

Ortega, who has had some experience training on the simulation dolls, said he is amazed by the technology available today.

“When I went to nursing school about 10 years ago, this obviously wasn’t available. It’s amazing how much technology has advanced,” Ortega said. “Especially because it really does help make training more hands-on.”

Emma Edwards, an interim clinical manager who is highly trained in operating the SIMs, said the dolls are used to expose staff members to critical situations they don’t come across too often. This type of training keeps the staff updated and increases a medical professional’s comfort level around different types of possible emergency scenarios. Edwards explained that the staff goes through drills that are sometimes unannounced, keeping nurses, medical residents and staff on their toes.

The simulator dolls have become popular in hospitals as they allow medical professionals to practice and correct any mistakes before treating real patients, Edwards said. Additional training modules and software can be purchased to keep the SIMs current with the latest hospital practices.

Garth Pecchenino, chairman of the Mercy Foundation, said the mannequins, with the exception “SIM woman” who has been around for a year, were bought in January. The dolls, training modules and software cost just less than $240,000, a purchase made possible by community donations raised at last year’s Night of 1000 Stars Gala. Pecchenino said the dolls are a good investment as they will contribute to the overall improvement of health care quality.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.

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