Hurricane preps: Medical evacuation drill

By Carolyn Roy – bio|email|Twitter

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) –  One of the most important lessons learned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was the need for faster response and better coordination of evacuations of the sick and disabled from coastal hospitals and nursing homes.  With the 2010 hurricane season just days away, hospitals in Northwest Louisiana are getting ready, just in case.   

The Overton Brooks VA Medical Center tested it's Federal Coordinating Center Thursday in coordination with the State of Louisiana's Medical Institution Evacuation Plan.

In the scenario played out Thursday, multiple hospitals are evacuating at the same time ahead of a fictional "Hurricane May."  A C-130 transport plane arrived at 10:00AM, carrying 24 hospital mannequin "patients," three of them critical, as emergency responders waited on the tarmac for a hands-on lesson in how to triage, move and keep track of them.

They're drawing from lessons learned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when dozens of patients evacuated from New Orleans area hospitals were flown in to Shreveport and absorbed into several local hospitals.  "We are really trying to do everything pre-hurricane evacuation, to get people out of harm's way before the hurricane hits," explains Kerry Eason, Area Emergency Manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Overton Brooks and other hospitals in the area had about a week's notice that the evacuations could be imminent, but when the time came, Associate Director Todd Moore says they had just 30 minutes notice before the C-130 transport landed at Tac Air in Shreveport.  They showed up with little more than the stethoscopes around their necks, helped triage patients as they arrived and took in 40 of them.

"Most of those patients had been in the hospital or nursing home setting for at least a week, some of them in not so good condition because there was no water, no electricity, things like that," says Associate Director Todd Moore, "and some of those patients were not veterans."  Veterans or not, Moore says the VA cared for those patients, and set up a hotline for families to help them find their loved ones.

Now, they're looking to learn from the experience.  "One of the things that we hope to take away from today is lessons learned on some things that we could actually do better, as far as getting the patients off the aircraft getting them in here, doing the triage process and through the communication as well."

In addition to a stockpile of litters and stands and other medical supplies, they're counting on an improved computerized system to keep better track of patients.

The National Disaster Medical System kicks in when multiple hospitals are forced to evacuate at the same time.  The NDMS is made up of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It's designed to move patients in times of disaster.

Because of the number of hospitals on the coast of Louisiana, the NDMS has been activated here more than any other state.  Hurricane season begins June 1.

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