Students, Hospital Get Real-Life Experience Without Real-Life Risk
Mar 24, 2022
Monique Binkley Smith
Trauma team cares for a teen patient

Every 15 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related car accident. That was the statistic in 1995 when a program called Every 15 Minutes was first adopted by the California Highway Patrol to give high school juniors and seniors a realistic look at the dangers of drinking and driving with the goal of reducing alcohol-related incidents among teens.

Thankfully, today fewer people die from alcohol-related car accidents, but drinking and driving as well as distracted driving by teens continues to be a problem—often because teens’ feelings of invincibility leads to poor choices. According to a 2018 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, among drivers involved in fatal crashes, teens aged 15-19 were more likely to be distracted by activities such as texting and emailing than any other age.

To encourage teens to think about the consequences of their actions and to prevent alcohol- and distracted driving-related car accidents, Sutter’s Eden Medical Center, the regional trauma center for southern Alameda County, recently participated in its fifteenth Every 15 Minutes program.

“Unfortunately, drunk driving accidents involving teens are something we see all too often here,” says Dr. Michael Esparza, a trauma surgeon at Eden.  “We hope this program will cause them to think about drinking and driving and the adverse consequences that can happen as a result.”

“The choices we make as drivers have consequences that can define and affect us for the rest of our lives,” agrees Officer Daniel Jacowitz. “At CHP, we want teens to understand that consequences can be severe when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Not only for them, but for their passengers, their families and first responders, too.”

Two-day program offers teens a realistic look at consequences

The two-day Every 15 Minutes program offers real-life experience without real-life risk. Nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists and laboratory and radiology technicians from Eden’s trauma team partner with public agencies, community organizations and local businesses to create a simulated traffic accident followed by rescue workers transporting “injured” students to Eden’s emergency department.

Alameda County Fire Department Staff Rescue Teen "victims from staged car crash

Alameda County firefighters rescue Castro Valley High School drunk driving accident “victims” as part of the Every 15 Minutes program.

The accident scene is dramatic with every effort made to ensure it appears realistic. Previously wrecked cars are used to stage the accident scene, and Eden’s trauma nurses even apply moulage makeup—mock injuries—to accident “victims” to make them appear genuinely injured.

Every year, Eden participates in Every 15 Minutes programs with two local high schools. Castro Valley High School in Castro Valley and Foothill High School in Pleasanton participated this year.

Watch the video of this year’s Every 15 Minutes program with Castro Valley High School.

The accident scene and the aftermath, including care of “victims” in Eden’s emergency department, are taped and the video is shared at a school assembly staged to look like a memorial service for the teens who “died” in the crash. The Every 15 Minutes program also involves the “living dead”—students who are removed from class at 15-minute intervals to dramatize the toll of drunk driving. And at a daylong retreat, the students are taught strategies for making good decisions and learn how to be champions for not driving under the influence or while texting.

Partnering on Every 15 Minutes boosts morale

Trauma surgeon examines teen "victim"

Sutter’s Eden Medical Center trauma team members examine a drunk driving accident “victim” from Castro Valley High School for the Every 15 Minutes program.

“Taking part in the Every 15 Minutes program makes the staff feel like we are working to prevent these accidents,” says Jennifer Vegas, an emergency and trauma nurse at Eden. “It’s very rewarding to me as a nurse to know that we potentially kept these kids from getting into cars after drinking—or maybe even prevent them from drinking at all.”

“Being part of prevention efforts is important for the staff because they deal with the aftermath of tragic real-life, alcohol-related accidents all the time,” says Pam Stoker, Eden’s trauma injury prevention specialist. “This is a way for them to try to make a difference in the community by working to prevent accidents before they happen.”

The program highlights the close cooperation between Eden and community organizations, including the Alameda County Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau and Court Services, California Highway Patrol, Reach Air Medical Services, Eden Medical Center Philanthropy, Falck Alameda County, Westmed Ambulance, San Leandro Police Department, Jess C. Spencer Mortuary, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Jack James Towing.

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