Mobile hospital lands at DCCC
The mobile surgical hospital that was on hand for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last year and visited the Gulf Coast for seven weeks following hurricane Katrina in 2005 was on display this week at Davidson County Community College.
The Rapid Response Unit of the National Mobile Disaster Hospital, which covered most of the back parking lot on campus, provided training and orientation for medical professionals from North Carolina and Mississippi.
The one-of-a-kind hospital, maintained by the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services with federal support, is available when a natural disaster damages a local hospital. During the week, participants drilled on what to do when bad weather takes out electricity and generators for the community and the mobile hospital.
Dr. Alex Horowitz, a Concord pediatrician, looked over the compound Thursday.
“Some of these elements can be dropped in place by air,” he said. “You have 200 beds, and all that you need for a hospital if a hurricane or tornado damages a hospital. The surgeons can have their own sound systems with their own music.”
The goal is for the hospital to deploy in 12 hours or less, to arrive within 36 hours, and to begin to treat patients within 24 hours of arrival. While the crew that moves the hospital is less than a dozen people, the fully deployed compound can include more than 100 after local medical professionals arrive.
“We rely on the local volunteers and medical professionals to staff the hospital,” said Mary Beth Skarote, coordinator of Healthcare Preparedness Response and Recovery for the Office of Emergency Medical Services. “If their hospital goes away, this is a way for them to keep working.”
FEMA developed the mobile hospital. In 2009, FEMA gave the state a $16.5 million allocation to set up a stand-alone medical facility with up to 260 beds. FEMA owns the hospital equipment and pays for deployments to disasters. The hospital deploys at least once a year for training.
“There are no state dollars in this,” said Dr. Lew W. Stringer Jr., who leads the hospital for the state Office of Emergency Management. “You have almost everything you need at this hospital.”
Stringer is a veteran of disaster operations from Katrina to hurricane Marilyn in 1995 that devastated St. Thomas, an American Virgin Island territory in the Caribbean Sea.
“We also set up for the presidential inaugurations and the political conventions,” said Skinner, who was the EMS Medical Director for Forsyth County in the mid-1970s. “The first big one for us was hurricane Andrew (1992). The hurricane at St. Thomas destroyed so much that I thought I’d never get back home. We had to use military flights. We were not used to seeing such damage and how it hurt people.”
The rapid response elements travel in 13 tractor trailers. It takes about 45 minutes for six people to set up a tent. Elements in the 79,000 square-foot area include:
• Seven-bed major emergency department.
• 10-bed critical care holding area.
• Full digital X-ray unit.
• Small lab and blood bank.
• Two operating rooms.
• Surgical processing with an autoclave and surgical equipment.
• A central medical supply with stores enough to sustain 72 continuous hours of operation with oxygen and medications.
• A morgue.
• An administrative and command and control unit.
“We have redundant equipment and communications in case of failures,” Skarote said. “We are flexible and can deploy just what a hospital needs to replace.”
Agencies: Four North Carolina agencies joined efforts to focus on the treatment and response phase of natural and man-made disasters, including the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services; the N.C. Division of Emergency Management; the N.C. Division of Public Health; and the Special Operations Response Team (SORT).