Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
In the case of medical emergencies, it's always good to be prepared. Having a 4,200-square-foot, 50-bed, inflatable hospital, and knowing how to use it, doesn't hurt either.
The Clayton County Board of Health (BOH) conducted a mobile hospital training session on Wednesday at the State Farmers Market, in Forest Park, for members of the health department's new District 3-3 (Clayton County) Public Health Volunteer Program. Twenty-five citizen volunteers, from various walks of life, learned how to assemble and break down a mobile hospital unit, in preparation for assisting health professionals in the case of a medical disaster or pandemic.
BOH Emergency Preparedness and Response Director Tom Bennett said the mobile hospital, which costs $500,000 and is contained in two 30-foot trucks, is one of eight units of its kind owned by the state. He said Wednesday was the first time BOH officials and volunteers had trained to set up the hospital, which has been in the care of the health department for the last two years.
"We're setting up so we have the capacity to deploy this hospital in the event we ever need it," Bennett said. "This was the same kind of hospital that they used in Americus in March 2007, when they had the tornado," he said. "They used one of these for three months. It comes with 50 beds and a trailer full of medical supplies. It's not designed to do all acute-care needs, [but] it can, at least, stabilize people."
On Wednesday, representatives from EMS Innovations, Inc., the maker of the mobile hospital unit, showed volunteers how to unpack the hospital, inflate and secure individual tents, operate and install mobile generators and air conditioning units, assemble medical equipment, rig and install lighting. Among the volunteers were average citizens, ex-military people, and a mix of medical and non-medical professionals from Southern Regional Medical Center, Javelin Technical Training Center, Arrowhead Nursing Center in Jonesboro, and Lake City Nursing and Rehab Center in Morrow.
EMS Innovations Regional Sales Manager Randy Taylor said the mobile hospital is designed to be simple, so that a few, trained individuals can lead a larger group of untrained citizens in assembling it, so medical professionals can focus on assisting patients.
"It's just such a wonderful technology," Taylor said. "It's really intuitive, and all it takes is common sense to put it up. During emergencies, things are chaotic enough," he continued. "When you have a disaster, you don't really know where your volunteers are going to come from. It's a wonderful tool for the state of Georgia, and will allow them to increase their surge capacity (ability to deal with an abnormal number of patients) when they need to."
The District 3-3 Public Health Volunteers Program, established in April of this year, presently has 60 citizen volunteers who have been trained to respond in emergency situations, according to BOH Planning and Training Manager Freddie Dugger. He said the mobile hospital training will help volunteers learn how to assist in "worst-case scenarios," such as if a high number of Clayton residents have to be vaccinated or quarantined.
"These are the people who will be supervising the real thing," Dugger said. "One of these people will be able to show 50 other people how to set this up."
Gordon Satkowiak, a public health volunteer and retired U.S. Army infantryman, said participating in the mobile hospital training is one way non-medical professionals can "give back" to the community. "I think it's something important to have as a backup," he said. "It's part of the concept of being able to help out wherever you can.
"You don't have to be a doctor or an 'RN' (registered nurse) to help," said Satkowiak.
Stacy Tolbert, a public health volunteer and medical program director at Javelin Technical Training Center, said having the mobile hospital in Clayton County, with people who know how to use it, may save lives.
"I'm from Florida, where destruction [from] hurricanes and tornados is seasonal," she said. "I'm glad that this is in Clayton County. We hope we never need it, but it is great to have."