When it comes to harmful chemicals, many can be dangerous for first responders, emergency room staff, and even innocent bystanders, which is just one of the reasons why Mercy Health Youngstown has taken steps to prepare for any type of chemical exposure. 

The decontamination room inside St. Elizabeth Youngstown helps treat patients, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and even hospital staff who are exposed to harmful industrial cleaners, residential cleaners, hazardous chemicals, opioid drugs, and could also be called into action for higher-level risks like Ebola, anthrax, and biochemical weapons. 

"Our training covers how to handle all of that, those specific drugs, specific chemicals, specific agents that we might come in contact with," said Emergency Room Nurse Manager Jennifer Clutter. She says the decontamination room can be used in a variety of ways. 

Typically, the person who needs to be decontaminated is brought in to the decontamination room through an outside entrance separate from the emergency room. That person, whether they're brought in by car or ambulance, can be taken through the entrance directly in for decontamination. 

"We realize the first second, that is what's going on. That you're contaminated, you are exposed to a drug or a chemical substance, and we need to make sure you don't contaminate the rest of the department," Clutter said. 

"The door leads us out into a canopy. If we're aware of an exposure, we can bring the patient directly into here, so we don't risk contamination of other patients and families or staff that are here," Clutter explained. 

Also, the room helps make sure that the emergency room staff isn't exposed to harmful chemicals or opioids. 

"We don't know what they're coming in with on them, we don't know if there are any particles on them, if there are any drugs on them, so these nurses have a very dangerous job, especially while trying to render medical attention," said Ryan Bonacci, the Chief of Police at Mercy Health. "It can be extremely difficult if somebody comes in combative, because you know we don't know, it's always the fear of the unknown." 

"Making sure that we are not unintentionally exposing ourselves to a contaminated substance. Everyone here in the medical field's first response is to want to help patients. Sometimes we have to take a step back, and have to make sure we're safe so we can treat the patients and the families and everyone else that needs us here," Clutter said. 

That's why emergency room staff have a variety of tools and equipment to help them stay safe like Tyrex suits. 

 "They would have the patient change into these on the scene, and they would show up essentially without any of their clothing on underneath there. So we try to minimize the exposure to us, the first receivers, and the emergency department as much as possible," Clutter said. 

Emergency room staff would also suit up, wearing suits that range from Tyrek suits to full-fledge hazard materials suits featuring purified air and more. 

"Our staff would change into these suits, and we would use special gloves which are nitrile, they're thicker than typical gloves," which Clutter explains allows them to have a more extended exposure period without repeatedly changing gloves. 

When it comes to opioid exposure, while the American Medical College of Toxicology says that dermal exposure is not enough to cause an overdose or toxicity, their guidelines for first responders still suggest washing the exposed area as soon as possible to decrease the likelihood of inhalation. 

"Especially with the opioid crisis that we're seeing and everything coming out, especially with the drugs and the narcotics, especially some of the stuff we're seeing with radiological and biological attacks, it's nice to have a decon room to get them prepped so they can be seen in a fast and orderly manner," Chief Bonacci said. 

He continued, saying, "Being on the road, more than likely, you're going to encounter it on a traffic stop. Some of the more specific specialty units, you know they're executing search warrants on these drugs houses. And no matter if it's in the car or in the house, the danger of being exposed is great." 

And while they hope they won't need to use the room for serious threats, they know that worst-case scenarios are best battled through preparation. 

"We subscribe to the boy scout method here of 'be prepared,'" Bonacci said.