When tornadoes hit Louisville on April 28, hundreds of people were injured and the only hospital in the county had to be shut down because of damage. But the state had prepared for just this type of emergency. As soon as the roads were safe for travel, the Mobile Emergency Treatment and Training System was deployed to serve as temporary emergency room.
METTS, which has eight beds inside an 18-wheel trailer, is part of the state medical response system that is a partnership between the Mississippi State Department of Health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The state medical response system is outlined in the governor’s plans for how disasters are handled by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Jonathon Wilson, director of emergency services, UMMC, said the $500,000 METTS was received in the fall of 2012.
“We took METTS up to Louisville as soon as the weather allowed,” Wilson said. “We had to wait for it to be safe before putting it on the road. At the same time triage teams were moving patients from the damaged hospital and a nearby nursing home, they had the mobile emergency room set up in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. We had a state trooper posted at the hospital if anyone came there for care, and directed everyone to come to the METTS. We kept it there for almost a week.”
Wilson said METTS and other components of the state’s disaster response plans are an outgrowth of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and other subsequent disasters in the state. One of the lessons from Katrina applied to the tornado disaster was that the state recognized that not only was the Winston Medical Center the only hospital in the county, but also its largest employer.
“It was important to get them back operating as soon as possible, not just for health care, but economically, as well,” Wilson said. “We kept the METTS trailer in place as MSDH started visiting with physicians and hospital administrators about how to get services back in Louisville. We found out it would be quite some time before the brick-and-mortar hospital back was in operation. We needed a better temporary solution than continuing to use our medical personnel to staff METTS.”
Initially the METTS staff included one 18-member team coming from all over the state and another team from Oxford. Then, by working with the hospital administration, the hospital was able to let their employees come back to work using the state’s equipment.
“Hospital employees worked side-by-side with state teams, and the county never missed a beat having emergency care available,” Wilson said. “METTS doesn’t have things like CT scanners, but it does have telehealth capabilities. We were also able to coordinate with helicopters to back up ground ambulances if they were needed. The hospitals in surrounding counties also helped.”
Wilson said it is important to stress that their mission is to support the local response.
“We don’t want to step on toes, just support the city or county in what they need,” he said. “We told the leadership of Winston County, ‘We are here to help you, but we don’t want to interfere or stay longer than we are needed.’ That worked really well in this response. The other thing I want to express is what a great job the employees of Winston Medical Center are doing taking care of citizens. They were doing a great job, state and federal teams were able to help in the interim, and now the hospital employees are back to providing care every day. That is a great win for the citizens.”
The METTS was used for about three weeks before it was replaced by a unique mobile disaster hospital from North Carolina that remain in use until the Winston Medical Center is repaired.
“We have worked with the State of North Carolina ever since Katrina when they came to Hancock County to help develop disaster response plans and do training on ways to support one another in a disaster,” Wilson said. “After the Louisville tornado, we received a mobile disaster hospital that is assigned by FEMA to North Carolina. It is not just an 18-wheeler. It is actually a modular building consisting of container boxes bolted to concrete slabs that are much more substantial than the tents we had. The mobile disaster hospital from North Carolina takes longer to get in place. But once you get it, it is more substantial and can hold up well. That meets the need better. It is the only thing like it in the country.”
In the three weeks following the storm, about 300 patients were treated at the emergency medical facilities.
Wilson said when they put the proposal together for METTS, they had multiple missions in mind. In addition to providing emergency care in a disaster, a second use is as a mobile training platform. The inside is designed like a hospital intensive care unit, which allows them to go around the state to do training in mobile classrooms to provide disaster training for paramedics, nurses and physicians.
A third use is medical mitigation. The METTS can be set up at a large public gathering where there might be concerns about fast ingress and egress for ambulances.
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