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Charlotte hospitals to deploy mobile units during DNC

It’s not a natural disaster or an airplane crash, but the Democratic National Convention is getting the same attention from emergency medical responders in Charlotte.

Carolinas MED-1, the mobile hospital that deployed to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, will be stationed in downtown Charlotte during the DNC.

MED-1, owned by Carolinas HealthCare System, is equipped as a 13-bed emergency room, with an operating room, intensive care unit, pharmacy and lab. During Katrina, it provided care for patients with everything from food poisoning to heart attacks.

“We’ve even delivered babies in MED-1,” said Dr. David Callaway, the mobile hospital’s medical director. “We’re prepared to handle everything.”

On advice from the Secret Service, Callaway said he can’t say exactly where MED-1 will be located during the convention, based at Time Warner Cable Arena. But he added: “It’s not going to be hard to find.”

The unit’s two 53-foot, 18-wheel tractor-trailers will be somewhere inside the I-277 loop. It will be staffed by doctors and nurses for at least 16 hours a day, maybe around the clock. And it will be targeted for those with DNC credentials.

MED-1 will be the most visible evidence of preparedness efforts that have been in the works for almost a year.

In collaboration with the Secret Service, hospital officials have been meeting since last summer with leaders from area police, fire and health departments, from Medic, the Mecklenburg ambulance service, and from the State Medical Response System.

To test their readiness for medical emergencies during the DNC, the groups have run drills based on plans they’ve used for many large gatherings, such as NASCAR races, and for large-scale accidents, such as the 1994 crash of a US Airways jet at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

“We have a great group of experienced disaster responders,” said Callaway, who is also medical director for emergency management at Carolinas Medical Center, the largest hospital in Charlotte. “We’re making sure that we have a safe and successful DNC.”

Work behind the scenes

In addition to Carolinas MED-1, Novant Health’s smaller Community Care Cruiser, a 40-foot doctor’s office on wheels, will also be uptown during the DNC.

But most hospital preparations have been behind the scenes.

Tony Rich, manager for emergency preparedness for Novant’s Greater Charlotte market, said Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte has used the opportunity to “leverage some things we needed to do anyway.”

For example, he said Presbyterian has decreased its emergency room waiting time by adjusting staff hours and “making sure you have the right people doing the right thing.”

Sections of the hospital not currently used are partially stocked with beds and other items, such as latex gloves, so patient rooms can be put into service quickly.

Rich said he’s worried most about heat-related emergencies during convention week in early September.

“This is going to be a very hot time of year,” he said. “That’s the message to get to people. If they choose to participate in activities downtown, it’s very important to stay hydrated.”

Otherwise, he’s expecting “pretty much business as usual” except for traffic jams that could make some hospital employees late for work. Because of potential traffic tie-ups, Novant will close its downtown doctors’ practice, First Charlotte Physicians – EpiCentre, for the full week of the DNC.

But even patients going to other offices could encounter delays. “We’re telling our patients … if you have an appointment the first week of September, you might want to plan a little extra travel time,” Rich said.

Additional people on call

Hospitals within Carolinas HealthCare will be fully staffed with extra employees on call, in case of emergencies, Callaway said.

Extra beds in hospitals outside the central city, such as CMC-Pineville or CMC-University, will be ready for use.

The region’s only Level One trauma center at CMC will have extra staff. Other hospital departments may have two people on call instead of one.

“The objective is that they will have access to additional staff in a very rapid manner if they need it,” Callaway said. In recent months, hospital employees have completed practice drills.

“We’re making sure everything works,” Callaway said, “from making sure the telephone numbers are correct, to making sure that we have the proper staff on call, to making sure we have enough tubing and blood supply.

Callaway said the extra precautions being taken to cover DNC visitors will not diminish access to medical care for community residents.

Many urgent care centers will have extended hours. For example, Presbyterian Urgent Care at 1918 Randolph Road will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight, Sept. 3 through Sept. 6, instead of closing at 8 p.m.

Also, Medic ambulances will continue to “do what they do,” Callaway said. “This is not affecting our day-to-day operations.”

Cooperation between local hospital systems has been “amazing,” Callaway said. “CHS and Presbyterian have really come together to come up with a comprehensive plan for how we’re going to protect our community.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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