One hospitalist spent three weeks without a break treating victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Another couldn’t get to work when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, but there were enough physicians on hand for that tragedy and fewer victims to treat than feared.
Yet another shudders when he recalls treating victims of an 89-car pile-up caused by a dust storm in southern Idaho.
Not all hospitalists have been in the trenches treating victims of disasters. But two emerging trends likely will put hospitalists on the front lines of preparing for disasters and treating victims.
The first is the increasing recognition that there are many threats to the safety of the public, including terrorism, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and criminal acts like the mass killings a year ago at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
The second is the rapidly expanding role hospitalists have in caring for critically ill and injured patients.
“Hospitalists will be a key,” says Timothy Close, senior safety officer for the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver and chairman of its emergency management committee. “Because of their understanding of all hospital services and treatments, they can handle a multitude of clinical roles. Facilities should deploy hospitalists’ understanding of the organization to facilitate patient care.”
Close, who has 15 years of experience in planning and preparedness, urges organizations to implement plans “that are realistic and doable based on local resources and conditions.” He also urges facilities to conduct emergency drills and have hospitalists participate.
He has dealt with crises wrought by fires, workplace violence, severe weather, and abductions, but adds it is important to remember that “you never know what’s going to happen.”
Close helped treat the victims of the dust storm pile-up. “It was caused by an unfortunate series of events,” he says. “A new land owner plowed during a dry time, and when the winds came it was catastrophic. The cars ran right into the dust cloud with zero visibility.”