Mobile emergency room gets workout in drill

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 04:17 PM

Word of a serious car accident squawks across the emergency radio. A team of ER nurses prepares to treat an 18-year-old woman ejected from the car. Ambulance crews reported that her vital signs were strong, but she remained unresponsive.

As a Monroe firefighter and a Union EMS worker lifted the woman from the stretcher to a bed in the critical care unit, a defibrillator and tracheal intubation equipment were ready.

Fortunately, this was not a real emergency. It was a disaster drill to train Carolinas Medical Center-Union staff to use MED-1, a mobile emergency room owned and operated by Carolinas Healthcare System. Saturday's drill simulated what would happen after a fire in CMC-Union's emergency department. Not only would the hospital staff have to treat anyone hurt in the fire, they would also treat any patient needing emergency medical treatment, said CHS public information officer Scott White.

"MED-1 is essentially a mobile emergency room," he said. "It was created and is owned by CHS and its mission is to deploy in any case there is a need for additional emergency medical treatment, such as in the event of a tornado, hurricane or any other type of natural disaster or a terrorist attack."

Parked and expanded on the CMC-Union campus, it is hard to picture MED-1 trundling down the highway behind a truck. From the outside, it looks like a medical clinic. The interior, with beds, medical equipment and nursing staff, resembled any ordinary hospital hallway. But this emergency room on wheels can be deployed within 24- to 48-hours and go from a parked trailer to functional clinic and operating room in less than an hour.

Only a few MED-1 models were built, but this one is put to good use. In 2005, it and its staff deployed to Waveland, La. after Hurricane Katrina.

"We were there almost seven weeks and had about 7,500 patient contacts," White said.

While not aiding in disaster recovery, MED-1 is usually kept in Charlotte, but are taken to area hospitals to train its staff to use the unit's equipment.

"The reason we're here today is that it's not unusual for hospitals to have damage to their emergency rooms," White said. "If that ever happens, we can come out here and this will act as the ER in its place."

There are 13 acute care beds, one chair for ear, nose, throat and dental work, a portable x-ray machine, a pharmacy and a surgery room with necessary monitors and machines. Aboard MED-1, nurses can administer anesthesia and use ultrasound to check for internal injuries. A small laboratory allows staff to test blood samples or diagnose certain diseases.

"It's so well thought-out that, of course, it has pretty much everything you need," White said.

Saturday's drill got CMC-Union staff into the mobile unit and familiar with equipment that is different from the full-scale versions used in the main emergency room.

While CMC-Union staff will likely never have to use MED-1 to treat patients, White said simulations like this prepare doctors, nurses and local emergency personnel for the worse case scenario.

"We certainly don't hope we ever have to use it here, but it's good to know it's there if needed," White said.