Answering the Call When Tragedy Hits Close to Home

By: Amy Ashbridge and Martin Kinnunen

It takes just 10 minutes to drive from Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville to UPMC East in Monroeville.

When a mass stabbing incident happened Wednesday morning at Franklin Regional High School, the tragedy hit close to home for the UPMC family. For many of the patients from Franklin Regional High School, UPMC East was their first stop.

Six of the injured were rushed to UPMC East, a community hospital that opened less than two years ago and has quickly become a trusted source of care in the eastern suburbs. When Wednesday’s incident happened, associates and physicians at East and across the UPMC system were ready to step into action. Not only did this incident test the clinical abilities of the hospital’s physicians, nurses and staff to treat an influx of patients, but it also called on our staff to draw from personal emotional reserves to support their friends, neighbors, and family members.

UPMC East is not a designated trauma center. However, its Emergency Department physicians and associates are highly skilled at stabilizing severely injured patients, and transferring them to trauma centers when necessary at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, UPMC Mercy, and UPMC Presbyterian. UPMC East medical staff also trained to handle a mass casualty event prior to the opening of the facility.

“The successes we see at the trauma centers could not occur without the efforts made by the physicians, nurses, and other employees in our UPMC community hospitals and their emergency departments,” said Steven G. Docimo, M.D., chief medical officer, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Of the six injured taken to UPMC East, one was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and the remaining five were treated in the Emergency Department and discharged home; an adult patient seen at UPMC Mercy also has been discharged. One patient remains at UPMC Presbyterian in critical condition. Two teenagers remain hospitalized at Children’s.

Dr. Juan Carlos Puyana, one of the UPMC trauma surgeons caring for the most seriously injured victims, said the wealth of medical resources in the region and well-coordinated triage services at UPMC East (see video), gave doctors at UPMC Presbyterian a jump start on caring for the student.

“It was thanks to the prehospital services and their quick actions stabilizing the patient and transferring him to our level one trauma center at UPMC Presby that we were able to successfully operate as fast as possible,” said Dr. Puyana. “We are very lucky here in Western Pennsylvania that when a traumatic, terrible event like this happens we have the medical infrastructure to respond quickly and save lives.”

At a news conference held Wednesday at UPMC East, leadership emphasized that East’s — and UPMC’s — successes in handling these patients was directly related to the skill of its physicians and associates. First responders were in quick contact with UPMC East providers while en route, and in turn stepped up to facilitate care and support of patients and their families. Nursing staff worked quickly to transport patients from the ED who didn’t require critical care. Support and hospitality staff worked to make sure patients and their families had food, juice and emotional support.

“The students, as well as the families, are going to need some type of emotional support over the next several days, if not weeks,” said Tamra Minton, UPMC East chief nursing officer and vice president, Patient Care Services. “And we will do that in any way that we can.”