Missing patient training

On a rainy spring afternoon, Unit Manager Janine Landry gets the news no manager ever wants to hear. Her 65-year-old patient, Mr. Smith, has gone missing. He may be confused and isn’t dressed for the poor weather outside. He was last seen around 1:15 p.m. in his room at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital; it is now 1:45 p.m.

This is a scenario that the nurses on the mental health unit have been given by Emergency Management Officer Josh Morin as their emergency training event. Within seconds, Janine and her team pull out their emergency binder and initiate phase one of Code Yellow – Missing Person.

“First we close all of the unit doors and call the nurses to the nursing station. Then we gather all of the patients into one area and ensure they are all accounted for by doing a roll call,” says Janine. “Everyone knows what’s expected of them. These are our patients. We want to make sure they are safe and found as soon as possible.”

Team members gather in the emergency incident room during phase 2 of the exercise. Here Janine acts as the incident commander, informing staff about the situation and about the missing patient.

Code Yellow is one of the 10 emergency response codes used by the staff at the Grey Nuns to alert everyone of an on-site crisis.

“These 10 emergency response codes, as well as all the additional contingency and response plans, represent the most likely emergency events to occur in a healthcare facility, but they are not exclusive,” says Josh.

This code consists of three phases, with each one escalating to a more in-depth level. Situations are only escalated to phase 3 immediately if the patient has a cognitive impairment, if there's a chance they could harm themselves or others, or if they are a child. These drills can take anywhere from three to four hours to complete. In this training scenario, Mr. Smith was found inside the hospital within an hour and a half.

Locating a missing patient requires a large, co-ordinated effort that extends beyond the staff on the missing patient’s unit. Drills are no different; each unit in the hospital will send at least one person as their representative to search their area and report back on their findings. This gives staff the opportunity to practise these situations in a safe environment and helps ensure that they will know what to do in a real-life situation.  

Power Engineer Prakash Mathura was the one to find Mr. Smith. Now that he has been found, Josh and his team will look at what they can improve so the patient can be found faster.

“Even though it's a drill, we take it seriously,” says Janine. “At the end of the day, it's preparing us for what might happen.”

When Code Yellow is initiated, staff work tirelessly to ensure that the patient is found quickly. Practising the drill allows the hospital staff to look at their response plan and make any changes without risking patient safety.

“I believe that these drills are important because they allow us to actually practise without any risk,” says Janine. “It’s non-threatening and it is a practice. We put what we have in place to the test and bring awareness as to what we know we do well and what we can do to improve the next time the code is called.”

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