Surge Tent a sign of community health
Louisiana residents are well acquainted with large-scale emergency situations, as the turn of the century has witnessed several large hurricane impacts as well as increased awareness spawned by acts of terrorism. Such recent experience has driven local, state and federal governments to push for better disaster preparedness and response.
But, in Acadiana, a devotion to community and cooperation has gone above and beyond, evidenced by several joint ventures of health care providers in coordinating disaster response and readiness capabilities. A shining example of this working relationship is the joint purchase of a brand new Western Shelter Gatekeeper tent, a mobile hospital tent commonly referred to as a Surge Tent. This tent can be deployed by any hospital as needed during any disaster or mass trauma event that causes an overflow surge of patients.
This type of pooled resource is made possible by an organized response structure that shares grant funding and decision-making. For instance, the state is divided into nine different regions to include all hospitals within that region. Each region is able to determine best practices, plans and procedures to enact emergency responses and distribute grant dollars within its area. Region 4, which comprises the 7-parish area of Acadiana, has divvyed up resources both at a per-hospital level, but also into joint investments to amass tools, supplies and equipment to serve the entire area.
"All hospitals are represented in this network,” explains Anjanette Hebert, director of security at Lafayette General Medical Center, who serves as the Designated Regional Coordinator for Region 4. "But, the rest of the state is in awe of how well Region 4 gets along,” she says. "We accomplish a lot in this region.”
The Gatekeeper All Hazards Emergency Facility is a pre-packaged 19x35-foot diameter shelter housed in a mobile 24-foot trailer that, once deployed, can serve as an emergency care center and as a command center for emergency responders. It can be connected to other structures or be self-contained for use out in the field.
Unveiled and displayed by Region 4 for the first time at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center on Wednesday, Hebert says the Surge Tent should serve to reassure the public that local hospitals are capable of meeting disaster needs. She also says it should be viewed as a credit to how public funding is being used to provide an invaluable public service.
"We need to make sure the community is aware that all of these hospitals have built this cache of assets and capability,” says Hebert.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001 Hebert explained that the network focused on decontamination capabilities. So, each hospital purchased supplies and haz-mat Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). The network also allocated grant money to purchase a mobile DECON unit, currently parked at Opelousas General Health System.
After Hurricane Katrina, the network pivoted more to mass casualty and treatment capabilities. The first big item towards that end was acquisition of the Louisiana Emergency Medical Unit (LEMU), a mobile clinic and predecessor of the Surge Tent. A major breakthrough of the LEMU was its ability to operate independently of other major disaster response organizations that sometimes demand complex parameters and restrictions. The LEMU allows local health care providers to offer assistance free of such bureaucratic interference.
The network also purchased a Mortuary Enhanced Remains Cooler (MERC) – a mobile temporary morgue currently parked at University Medical Center. This would serve an important role in the event of mass casualties and long-term power outages, much like the Katrina aftermath.
The Surge Tent is yet another major step towards preparedness. This unit will be kept at Lourdes, as their new campus on the outskirts of Lafayette offers plenty of available space to park the dual-axle trailer.
The Surge Tent will work like an emergency room. The truck that pulls it will offer climate control in its command center to help make the entire unit work like a real surface hospital as much as possible. This would free up the LEMU to mobilize towards more emergent demands, rather than serving as the go-to location for all medical needs.
In the future, Hebert believes the network will fulfill plans to better manage electrically dependent homebound patients who may be at risk of losing electricity. In the current process, for example, a toll-free number is disseminated in advance of a hurricane to allow these patients to receive information about available shelter options and to be placed in the appropriate shelter for the level of care needed. In the future, the hope is to have an advanced registration process that will pre-identify anyone who may need this assistance.
Hebert says the ideal goal is to make hospitals available for those who truly need hospitals, rather than the first place patients seek when a disaster looms.
"We have to be able to mitigate,” says Hebert. "Preparedness is one thing… But, we have to assess risks in order to properly prepare,” she says.
Thinking ahead and planning accordingly is due diligence for health care providers and emergency responders. But, working together and sharing resources is a credit to the spirit of Acadiana.
Pictured, left to right, is LGMC nurse manager Erin Shipley and LGMC director of security Anjanette Hebert, who serves as the Designated Regional Coordinator for Region 4.