FALL RIVER — On the sixth floor of a granite textile mill dating to the mid-19th century, the rooms are filled with medical technology on the cutting edge.
The phrase is partly literal — Bioskills of the North East is a medical training center with all the scalpels, saws and syringes you’d see in any hospital surgical room. It’s also an educational facility outfitted with state-of-the-art tech capable of teaching medical techniques to everyone from EMTs to surgeons.
The 20,000-square-foot facility, at 277 Pleasant St. near PrimaCare in the Union Mills, had a soft opening in 2021 as the PC Institute for Medical Education. PrimaCare is still one of the company’s major shareholders, but it has recently improved its facility and rebranded itself as BONE, with a relaunch set for September.
CEO Alexander Kouspakian, who joined BONE in June, said he’s excited about the facility’s future. “This lab competes technically, space-wise and talent-wise with any lab that is in the country, if not much better.”
How BONE uses tech and real cadavers to train health care workers
BONE is a training center for health care professionals. There are lecture rooms like you’d see in any college, but the labs are designed to function the same way as any medical facility — because the equipment is the same as any medical facility. Here, EMTs can practice saving lives in emergencies, nurses can become expert in all the gear, doctors can learn the latest techniques and practice using their tools as many times as they need to before they take their skills into the field.
BONE Executive Director Victor Machado said the business supplements and expands what those health care workers have learned elsewhere.
“A lot of procedures that they’re seeing, they’ve probably performed maybe once in their career,” he said, “but here they can duplicate it over and over and over again.”
BONE uses high-fidelity manikins that simulate nearly every system in the human body and any problem the body can withstand. They’re connected to the same monitors found at any hospital.
“These manikins do everything from screaming, purging, bleeding, sweat,” Machado said.
They also blink, breathe, and — at the touch of a few buttons — can die and be brought back to life. Lead AV tech and multimedia specialist Tyler Ewart said BONE can devise almost any medical disaster that might happen to a person and duplicate it, so students can learn how to solve that problem in the real world. With its flexible workspace, Ewart said, BONE can have clients practice extracting and loading manikins onto gurneys and getting them to the equipment in the first place.
“Very rarely do we do, ‘a patient is in a bed.’ That’s not normally where you’re going to find your patients,” Ewart said. “For a lot of nurses it can be, but the majority of the time, even for a nurse, you’re going to have people coming in from the emergency room. They could have issues that they’re hiding, that they’re not being clear about.”
Ewart is in charge of recording lessons, which can then be saved or broadcast anywhere globally.
Besides the manikins, BONE also uses real cadavers donated from tissue banks, for medical device companies testing products or for training sessions where nothing can match the experience of working on the human body. BONE procures and stores specimens for clients.
“Many times, many bioskills labs … will order tissue, they will do one procedure on the tissue, and then send it back,” Machado said. “We preserve the tissue we procure, where we’re maximizing the gift from people who donate their loved ones.”
How BONE fits in Fall River’s health care economy
Kouspakian said BONE competes with other labs in the Boston and Providence areas, but said BONE is larger, more advanced and more adaptable. Its location in Fall River, where health care makes up the largest employment sector, is intended to draw clients from beyond Fall River who will find this city more convenient than the large cities. It benefits from having good transportation options and free parking — and this winds up benefiting the local economy; he said Machado has contracted with hotels and transportation companies to put up clients during training sessions.
“It’s about $5 million of an investment they put in to prepare this place,” Kouspakian said. “The main reason they invested here is to make sure that any medical professional that is interacting with a patient has the best possible skills and the highest skills to do that.”
BONE has also reached out to schools and universities. Ewart said students from Somerset Berkley Regional High School visited, performing surgery on racks of baby back ribs. Machado said Salve Regina University has used the facility to train nursing students.
“Starting next January for five weeks, we are a campus of Assumption University,” Machado said. “They’re doing their gross anatomy for their [physicians’ assistants] prior to their didactic training. We’ll have the place open 15 hours a day, so students can come in and out and do some extra learning.”
“These are the future surgeons we’re going to be seeing doing great things eventually,” he said.
Ewart said he’s been gratified to see local clients come through learning and perfecting skills that have saved lives. But there’s another benefit.
“It’s phenomenal that we get to bring life back to a space that’s been here for so many years.”