Incredible Health

Timeline of events: How an Aurora hospital handled Friday’s movie massacre

July 20, 2012: Police officers arrive at the Century 16 theatre east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., on Friday.

July 20, 2012: Police officers arrive at the Century 16 theatre east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., on Friday.  (AP2012)

Despite the shock and chaos that erupted early Friday morning after a gunman opened fire on a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the hospitals within the area that dealt with the sudden influx of patients reported ‘well-organized, well-staffed’ response to the emergency, which left 12 people dead and 58 wounded.

Emergency medical crews worked quickly and efficiently to treat the surviving patients brought into the hospital, according to Tracy Lauzon, the director of EMS and trauma services at The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA). Eighteen patients total were brought into the Aurora, Colo., hospital, which is less than five miles from the Century 16 multiplex where the shooting took place.  

According to Lauzon, the first patient arrived just after midnight before the hospital staff knew about the shooting.  The EMS responders informed the hospital what had occurred, and in preparation for the additional patients who would be brought in that night, the trauma surgeon on duty called for back-up.

In the 15 minutes it took a second surgeon to arrive, 14 more patients had already arrived at the hospital.  The remaining three patients came later in the morning, suffering from symptoms of noxious gas exposure.  

“Most of the patients came in at once, a little after midnight,” Lauzon said.  “As a city, it’s called a mass casualty [for which there is a disaster protocol in place].”  

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The number of patients doesn’t necessarily trigger the disaster protocol, but rather, how many facilities are required to treat patients.  In the aftermath of the shooting, multiple hospitals in the Denver area stepped forward to handle patients, including the TMCA, the University of Colorado Hospital, Denver Health Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center.  

“The EMS related to us how many patients they expected would need to be transported, and we responded with what our current capacity was and how many patients we could take,” Lauzon explained.  

As the ‘point’ hospital that morning, TMCA communicated with the other medical centers in the area to assess their capacities and direct EMS accordingly to ensure no one hospital was overwhelmed.  The University of Colorado Hospital took in the most patients Friday night with 23, while most of the other centers took in four to six patients each.

“We had a great collaboration between EMS and the other hospitals that night – as well as can be expected for something that horrific,” Lauzon said.

As a level 2 trauma center, there are surgeons on duty at TMCA 24 hours a day, according to Lauzon.  Normally, the hospital has at least one trauma surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, a neurosurgeon, an anesthesiologist, an emergency room physician and an intensive care specialist present.  

To handle the extra patients, the hospital called in five trauma responders, two orthopedic surgeons, two neurosurgeons, three anesthesiologists, three ER physicians and two intensive care specialists.

The patients who were brought into TMCA ranged in age from 16 to 31 years old, and required procedures ranging from neck explorations (due to gunshot wounds) to brain surgery.

“Six patients total went into surgery,” Lauzon said.  “One went in for brain surgery, two went in for neck explorations for wound injuries, a couple others had orthopedic procedures done – one for the arm, one for the leg, and some had gunshot wounds to their upper torso or chest area.”

All of the patients who required surgery survived, and eight were discharged the same day, according to Lauzon.  The three patients who were brought in for gas exposure were also discharged that day.

Later on in the morning, around 6 a.m., hospital directors thanked the staff on duty for their involvement, and updated everyone on the status of each patient.  

“One of the trauma surgeons said we had of people [there to help]; it was organized very well, and people were very in-tune to what was going on and willing to help,” Lauzon said.  “They knew what their roles were, and the job got done.”

Meanwhile, seven patients currently remain in the hospital, with two in the intensive care unit, she said.

“[The patients in the ICU] are stable, but have a long rehabilitation ahead,” Lauzon said, adding she could not release any more information about these patients due to privacy concerns.