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Lessons in life

Employees at smaller, regional hospitals see only a fraction of the trauma cases that urban hospital workers do, so they welcome the chance to learn how to treat critical cases.

Ben Dorman and Simon
Ben Dorman, a registerd nurse at Altru Health Systems in Grand Forks, programs Simon, a $40,000 computerized mannequin used to train medical staff at smaller regional health care facilities. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Employees at smaller, regional hospitals see only a fraction of the trauma cases that urban hospital workers do, so they welcome the chance to learn how to treat critical cases.

That's the purpose of Simon, a computer managed mannequin used by Altru Health System in Grand Forks to train a dozen regional health care facilities.

"North Dakota nurses need 12 hours of contact training every two years for licensure, 24 in Minnesota," said Sue Tharalson, nursing manager at Altru. "Simon provides four contact hours in one visit."

As part of a grant awarded to First Care Hospital in Park River, N.D., by the North Dakota Centers for Rural Health, Altru has been providing the only training of its kind in the region throughout the spring and summer. The grant ends Aug. 31.

During training, medical staff learn problem-oriented, real-life simulations from Simon. The life-size mannequin reacts to a procedure in a number of ways, including death, urination and even verbal responses.


"It's programmed to speak to people, saying 'I'm thirsty,' or 'I can't feel my toes,'" Tharalson explained. "That prompts them to get ready for the next scenario or problem."

"We take medical situations rural hospitals aren't comfortable with and get them accustomed with at least one case," said Ben Dorman, registered nurse. "We may see 100 patients a day at Altru with those situations where they may see only five."

Dorman and a paramedic will take about 30 to 45 minutes to load Simon-- with his computers, screens, compressor, gurney and wires-- into an Altru Ambulance and travel to regional hospitals.

Dorman specializes in ACLS, advanced cardiac life support. Through the computer, he can adjust Simon's condition from stable to unstable, then teach the students what to watch for next and have them identify it -- pulse rate, a drop in blood pressure, how Simon is breathing, if he's experiencing chest pain or whether CPR is needed.

"It's very important to understand the rhythm before the treatment," Dorman said.

Regional hospital staff also can learn how to work with an intubated patient. Simon's flexibility can adjust that situation to include a swollen tongue or clenched jaw. Simon also simulates post-traumatic patient care; regional staff determine what medications are used and why.

Randy Severson, regional EMS coordinator, said Altru paid about $40,000 for Simon. Wireless upgraded models can go as high as $250,000. He and Dorman said the feedback has been good because most regional hospitals have small staffs and can schedule training in the mornings or afternoons, and they're asking for more sessions.

"At the end, they feel a lot more confident with what they can do for that patient," Dorman said. "They can take what they learned and teach other facilities. They're grateful."


Regional medical facilities visited by Simon include Park River, Langdon, Cooperstown, Cavalier, McVille and Grafton, N.D., and Crookston, Baudette, Warren, Hallock and Roseau, Minn. Altru is working on scheduling a visit to Devils Lake.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com .

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