A U.S. military combat-support hospital team based at Fort Polk near Leesville, La., works hard year-round to remain ready to erect a temporary, fully functioning tent hospital within 72 hours whenever and wherever it’s needed. That could mean an overseas war zone or closer to home for Americans hit by a tornado or hurricane.
The 115th Forward Support Battalion, led by Col. Kevin J. Stevens, has practiced assembling the temporary hospital three times this year, with another exercise planned for October. In its last run-through, a 24-hour acute-care hospital of 84 beds was erected in 66 hours. It included two operating rooms, two 24-bed ICUs with ventilators, patient wards, a six-bay ED, specialty clinics, and lab, pathology, biomedical, pharmacy, and blood services.
All of the needed equipment can be moved by truck, airplane, or boat in 32 20-foot-long vehicles, Stevens says. The staging team lays out the perimeter, perhaps in a parking lot or an existing structure, such as a school. Heating and cooling systems, water, oxygen, and power generators are brought in, and the team establishes a landing pad for helicopters.
“We bring all that wherever we go. But setting it up is the easy part,” Stevens says, adding that staffing and managing an acute-care hospital is the hard part.
When fully operational, the temporary hospital employs a professional staff of 75 to 80, including medical specialists. Some are based year-round at Fort Polk, keeping the equipment maintained. Others practice at hospitals across the country but are on the “call list” when a deployment is ordered. A new set of up-to-date, interlocking equipment for the temporary hospital was issued in March.
“Getting better at this is my mission,” says Stevens, a soldier since 1974 who has deployed with Forward Support Hospitals in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “We work to keep medical and deployment skills sharp at all times. Everything we do is meant to save soldier and civilian lives.”
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.