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Thomas Memorial prepares for active shooter drill

By Candace Nelson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Thomas Health System is preparing for an active shooter drill at both Saint Francis Hospital and Thomas Memorial Hospital, officials announced at the Thomas Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees meeting Thursday morning.

The scenario will portray an active shooter and test the hospitals' response to such an incident.

"It's just as harsh as it sounds, and in meeting and planning for it, it's a hard thing to do," said Cynthia Barnette, vice president and general counsel. "It's an opportunity for us to look at our security in the ER, and that is the area we believe to be the most vulnerable."

Barnette said the hospitals are working with security experts to put the drill together.

"We'll start with Thomas and look at our procedures, prepare our policy and educate everyone, which I feel is critical to this process," she said.

A date for the drill has not been set, but it will be within the next couple of months, said Paige Johnson, the director of marketing and public relations for Thomas Health System.

"We're doing it as part of joint commission regulations and to just be prepared," Johnson said. "But this could happen. There's been a lot more of this kind of activity nationwide, so we want to make sure our hospitals are prepared to handle anything that comes out."

Johnson said local schools and other hospitals have participated in such drills in the past so the community is prepared to handle the situation collaboratively.

In other news, the board approved the addition of volunteers to the chaplain group. The group has lost a number of volunteers over the years due in part to illness or age, Barnette said. She said the hospital is actively recruiting interested and qualified candidates.

"We go through much of the same credentialing process as we do with doctors," she said. "We have applications that are submitted with all the background information, which is verified through independent sources, and get references from the church."

About five female volunteers went through the education and practice sessions and received recommendations from the chaplain committee before the vote went before the board.

The board also heard about the hospital's largest class of Thomas Health System Junior Nursing Academy participants.

The program, which teaches eighth graders about nursing, had 37 students during the week of June 18-21. The program began three years ago and offers two four-day sessions each summer. The goal is to teach students about nursing before they get to high school and choose a career track.

"They have to meet some minimum requirements, like a 2.5 GPA, and write an essay on why they would be interested in a field in nursing," said Bevin Osborne, a nurse who helps coordinate the academy.

"Then we bring them in; they're issued a set of nursing scrubs, their own stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. They learn to do vital signs and blood pressure. We introduce them to as many roles in nursing during those four days that we can."

The eighth-graders who complete a session can enroll the next year as ninth-graders and participate in the Senior Nursing Academy.

The next session will be July 31-Aug. 2.

For more information on participating in the academy next year, contact 304-347-6615.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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