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Local medical staff train for radiation contamination cases

LA CROSSE, Wis. - In the medical field, doctors have to be prepared for the routine and the irregular.

That's why staff at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse were busy this week, sharpening their skills in case of a rare emergency situation.

"I'm doctor Copps, I'm one of the emergency room doctors," said Dr. David Copps, an emergency physician with Gundersen Lutheran.

It's the challenge emergency room doctors face, how to treat patients quickly and safely.

"Any head injury [or] loss of consciousness?" Copps asked Tri-State paramedics. "Nope, isolated injury," said the paramedic."

But how do doctors treat patients with a problem they've rarely or sometimes have never seen before?

"He is radioactive," the paramedic told Copps.

Copps and about a dozen other staff members at Gundersen are participating in a planned exercise to brush up on their skills in treating patients with radiation contamination.


"It's a contact issue," said Copps. "So if you touch something that's contaminated [and then] go and do something else [then] go back and touch some other part of the patient, then you've re-contaminated the patient. So that's [the reason] why for the very regular checks with the very sensitive radiologic detectors."

This radiation contamination training is required once a year not only for hospital staff, but those who work at Dairyland Power Cooperative.

That's the company that owns the former nuclear power plant 15 miles south of La Crosse in Genoa.

Even though the plant hasn't been operational for more than twenty-years, both the plant and hospital staff still need to be prepared.

Gundersen's Emergency Manager, Tom Wright said this type of training could come in handy for other rare events too.

"In this day and age, we think there's always the possibility for terrorism, and so to stay continuously ready, that's our mission," said Wright.

So after cleaning and a thorough scan with the detector, the patient is ready to be wheeled into main hospital for further treatment.

While most of the focus is on keeping the patient's safe, doctors also have to remember to take care of themselves too.

"We're getting pretty good at this as we're going along," said Copps. "It's always difficult to remember as far as getting the clothes on taking the clothes off -- the order, and making sure we're getting our potentially contaminated clothes off without contaminating the clean parts of our body."

Once the nuclear plant in Genoa is completely decommissioned, staff at Dairyland Power will no longer have to do this type of training.

However, hospital staff will likely still continue with theirs.

There is another nuclear generator located in Red Wing, Minnesota and Gundersen doctors say it's always good to be prepared just in case.

Planned exercises take place at Gundersen Lutheran once every few months. Staff trains for not just radiation, but chemical and biological emergencies as well.

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