COLUMBIA, SC — More than 150 medical, military, local, state and federal government workers took part Wednesday in a long-planned simulation of a mass casualty event where some 100 mock patients were airlifted into the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and then transferred to 14 area hospitals.
Weve got a closed-head injury here, and shes on a ventilator, paramedic Rick Fritts told his medical team Wednesday morning as they clustered around a patient who had arrived with some 40 others after being actually being flown in on an Air Force C-17.
The drill, carried out in a large hangar at the S.C. Aeronautics Commission, used the scenario that thousands of people had been injured at a bombing at a downtown Charlotte stadium. Charlotte-area hospitals had been overwhelmed and were airlifting numerous patients around the South, including to Columbia.
Its just very ironic that what just happened in Boston you have to be ready, and theres no one operation that can do it by themselves, said Fort Jackson post commander Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, who noted numerous different agencies were working together under one roof
The patients handled Wednesday were not simulated explosion casualties, but rather existing mock patients supposedly in Charlotte-area hospitals who had to be moved to make beds available for more critical blast casualties. Actually, Wednesdays patients were young Civil Air Patrol cadets from across the state, and the C-17s flew in from Charleston.
At the Columbia airport, patients were unloaded onto stretchers from the C-17, taken to the hangar, had their conditions assessed and received emergency treatment, then were transferred to ambulances that took them to hospitals as far away as Florence and Dillon.
Besides medical treatment, computer specialists in the hangar entered patient information into a recently-developed national, standardized Internet-accessible computer software program called Joint Patient Assessment Tracking System.
After Hurricane Katrina, we realized there were thousands of patients unaccounted for, and they needed to have a national level system to track patients, said Sgt. Maj. Dora Guzman, a U.S. Army reserve soldier, who helped oversee patient tracking on six laptops.
The software also insured that patients were sent to the right hospitals. You wouldnt want to send a heart patient to a hospital that doesnt have that capability, Guzman said. Our job is also to make sure we get all these patients back.
The drills overall coordinator was the S.C. Forestry Commission, which like state forestry commissions elsewhere, has used its experience fighting fast-moving wilderness forest fires to develop sophisticated event response processes.
Dr. Chris Lombardozzi, Spartanburg Regional hospitals emergency room physician, oversaw the transfer of Wednesdays patients.
Something like this, its all about training, Lombardozzis said. You do it over and over again, and then, what appears to be chaos, isnt its a well-oiled, well-practiced machine provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.