Michael F. Easley

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: June 14, 2007

  Contact: Lori Walston

Volunteers play key role in state test of medical response capabilities

RALEIGH – More than 275 medical students and faculty from Duke University are assisting the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services today in a demonstration and evaluation of the state’s ability to conduct a large-scale evacuation of special medical needs patients from a disaster or danger zone.

The Medical Evacuation Triage and Transportation Assessment (METTA) got under way Monday with preliminary testing inside an Onslow County nursing home. The evaluation shifted today to Surry County where a fully operational medical evacuation center for patients with special medical needs has been set up in Dobson on the campus of Surry County Community College.

“This is a great opportunity for us to see what we’re doing right, and to figure out what we need to do better,” said Drexdal Pratt, chief of OEMS. “You just can’t anticipate everything that may come up in a table-top drill. This gives everybody realistic, hands-on experience and presents us all with situations that will likely be encountered in the event of a real evacuation of people with special medical needs.”

The setup includes three of the state’s new 50-bed mobile hospitals, from UNC Health Care System in Chapel Hill, Duke University Hospital in Durham and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. The mobile hospitals pack into 53-foot trailers and can be operational in a few hours. Also participating are 10 volunteers from the Campbell University pharmacy program.

“This is the second year we have teamed up with Duke University to help facilitate an emergency and disaster preparedness exercise,” Pratt said. “They provide medical, nursing and other students whose skills help bring realism to our exercise. Campbell University’s students are working in a pharmacy that has been set up on the community college campus. They are faced with critically thinking through problem solving for dispensing medicine in an off-site location.” Pratt said that emergency responders from the state’s western, Triad and Triangle areas are also participating in the exercise.

The OEMS is working with local, regional and state agencies to assess the nuts and bolts functioning of systems that will be used to transport medical patients from danger zones to safe havens. In this scenario it is a mock severe hurricane threat pushing medical patients to the temporary medical setup. These efforts will be under the scrutiny of hundreds of professionals representing more than 20 local, state and federal agencies. The assessors will convene to evaluate the triage, treatment, tracking and transportation practices that are employed. In the event of a larger- or smaller-scale disaster, these techniques can be scaled to meet local needs and could involve similar set-ups at multiple community college campuses in the event of a major disaster.

This exercise will test the state’s plan for relocating medically fragile populations and provide critical feedback to assure that state and local teams can respond effectively and efficiently in the event that a large-scale medical evacuation is needed. The evaluation of current medical capabilities has showcased critical relationships between private healthcare systems and the state. These capabilities are critical with the increased risk of widespread flooding and wind damage from hurricanes, and the added possibility of man-made disasters.



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Debbie Crane