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Doctor, nurse look back on I-35W bridge collapse

10 years after the I-35W bridge collapse, a nurse and doctor at the University of Minnesota Medical Center look back on that day. 

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sandra Fonkert was nearing the end of her shift on Aug. 1, 2007, when the I-35W bridge collapsed.

"10 years ago when I was getting ready for work, I had no idea what that day had in store for me and hundreds of other people," said Fonkert, a clinical staff nurse at the University of Minnesota Medical Center Emergency Department.

Fonkert remembers the hospital's first patient, who arrived about a half hour after the collapse. From there, victims started arriving in cars, the backs of pick-up trucks, and on foot.

"Good Samaritans and bystanders were helping people off the bridge deck and putting them in cars and trucks and driving them up River Road and this was the first hospital they found. So they stopped," said Dr. Jeffrey Chipman, trauma surgeon at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and professor of surgery at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota Medical Center's trauma program was one month old when the I-35W bridge collapsed.

"Our Trauma Center is established and functioning at a high level. We've adapted things that we learned from those days here. One of the striking things was how to rapidly get people into the electronic medical record, for example. You can't do anything to patients until they're in the system and if you can't get patients in the system quickly, then you can't do anything for them," Dr. Chipman said.

Besides immediate registration, that day also affirmed the need for reporting processes that help care providers work better together. It also helped them focus on team-based care. On the day of the bridge collapse, Dr. Chipman created teams of care providers and assigned them responsibilities so they could efficiently handle that many patients.

Dr. Chipman said, "The thing I really remember the most is the response and the community response, and how it could have been and how it wasn't. So while we learned things and we adapted and improved, it was a pretty amazing response in the beginning."

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