(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- There was no emergency in the area or surge of patients overloading local hospitals on Tuesday.
But participants from area hospitals, public health agencies and public safety acted like there was one, in a medical cache drill to exercise the response in deploying a hospital at an alternative care site at the Sikeston Armory.
"We set up a basic medical alternate care hospital to evaluate and assess patients for transports to a higher level of care," said Joy Cauthorn, disaster planning coordinator for Missouri Delta Medical Center. "This would be deployed if the hospitals' service was disrupted and they had to go to another building, or it could be deployed in support of a hospital in an event where we would need additional beds."
This summer, the hospital received a $250,000 grant, which was used to purchase four large shipping containers, with each equipped with enough cots and supplies for a 250-bed hospital for a 1,000 bed medical surge cache to be used in disaster situations. MDMC owns the cache, but it can be used anywhere in the state if needed, said Cauthorn.
More than 50 people representing hospitals and public health departments from around southeast Missouri participated in the drill Tuesday. The scenario was that severe weather and a tornado outbreak hit a 15-square-mile area near Oran and Morley, destroying at least 50 homes.
Throughout the day, responders went through the drill, including communication and setting up a 50-bed hospital and 10-bed triage area. They not only practiced a potential situation, but it was also the first time some had seen and worked with the supplies, pointed out Cauthorn.
"You can learn by talking about it, but you don't really know how it works until you actually do it," said Sharon Urhahn, director of marketing at MDMC.
In fact, there were a few minor kinks while performing the drill -- which were identified and an action plan was made so it will be more organized the next time the equipment is used, whether for another drill or actual disaster, said Cauthorn.
"But that's the idea of the drill -- to find those kinks, work them out and solve them on the spot," said Rodger Huffman of Southeast Missouri Hospital, who participated in the drill.
Huffman, who has been in health care for more than 32 years, said the drill was good for all agencies involved.
"This is the first time that, to my knowledge, all of the hospitals have drilled together," he said.
Evaluators on hand during the drill were pleased with what they saw.
"I've seen teamwork, and the community come together," said Jackie Neylon, an evaluator and the manager of disaster preparedness for the Missouri Hospital Association.
"The collaboration with public health agencies, hospitals and public safety was exceptional," agreed Mike Thomas, associate director of the Heartland Center for Public Health Preparedness, who also served as an evaluator.
The evaluators noted organizers had a response plan worked out prior to the drill and followed it. While performing the exercise, things were done efficiently, and actually took less time than those in charge had predicted.
Cauthorn said it took many people to make the drill a success. "We all worked to bring everything together, plan and execute," she said.
Now that responders are familiar with the supplies and how to assemble them, Cauthorn said she is looking to have future drills that are more in-depth. "Next time, we may have 'patients,'" she said.
While communications were being set up in the morning, officials with the Sikeston Department of Public Safety were also on hand. They brought out the new Sikeston Mobile Command Unit. "This gave them an opportunity to test that equipment," said Cauthorn.
Also on site was Southeast Missouri Hospital's Mass Casualty Incident unit. One of five trailers in the 14-county area in Region E, it stores medical supplies and radios which enhance the hand radios responders carry, in addition to satellite phones and other communications equipment.
"This is a sort of first response to get everyone started," said Charles Wilson of Southeast Missouri Hospital. He noted that the communications equipment also has the capability to link different bandwidths.
Members of the public were invited to tour the facility on Tuesday to see what it looks like and how it would work. "In an actual disaster, no one would be allowed inside," said Urhahn, noting security guards would be on site if that were to occur.
"This will let them know what our resources are to support them during a medical crisis in a disaster," said Cauthorn. "They'll see that we are able to function together in the hospital region with public health organizations and city officials."
Medical surge caches are funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ASPR Hospital Preparedness Program, CFDA 93.889. There are 12 total surges in the state, of which MDMC's is the largest.