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MultiCare connects to federal, community agencies to support disaster relief exercise

Posted on Aug. 11, 2017 ( comments)

In 1964, the largest earthquake in U.S. history jolted Alaska, killing 131 people, damaging property and creating a tsunami that wreaked havoc as far away as Hawaii. With a population that has more than doubled since 1964, a similar event today in Alaska has the potential to overwhelm medical resources within the state. 

On Aug. 4, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Pulse Heart Institute and MultiCare Allenmore Hospital contributed to a National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) exercise to practice the transfer, tracking and treatment of patients from Alaska in the event of such a disaster.  

250px-NDMSThe scenario required the transfer of hospitalized-but-stable patients arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Alaska to nearby civilian hospitals off base, linking federal agencies with South Sound emergency management and medical organizations.  

“The biggest challenge is that during the times each of our facilities are participating in drills, they are still managing the day-to-day operations of the hospital,” says Heidi Rock, MultiCare’s emergency management program manager. “That is what would happen in a real event, so we are thankful for the opportunity to practice.”

The NDMS is a federally-coordinated health care system and partnership of the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. The purpose of the NDMS is to support state, local, tribal and territorial authorities following disasters and emergencies by supplementing health and medical systems and response capabilities. 

At the federal level this exercise takes place over four days; local hospitals that have agreed to serve as patient reception areas in support of the NDMS are involved on the last day. Participating hospitals receive several role-player patients who are volunteers from the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps, along with the option of receiving additional “paper patients.” 

Debbie Settles, director of clinical objectives at Tacoma General Hospital, served as the incident commander at Tacoma General in this exercise and said that she saw “teamwork, resources and enthusiasm from all that participated. Our community partners, hospital leaders and management were responsive at all levels and together we identified strengths and opportunities to continually improve emergency preparedness."

Area participants outside of MultiCare included CHI Franciscan Health System, Western State Hospital, Madigan Army Medical Center Emergency Management, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Pierce County EMS, the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, and Pierce County Department of Emergency Management. Planning began at the county and military level in the fall of 2016. 

Rock says this and similar exercises provide an excellent foundation to build inter-agency relationships that pay off during times of crisis.

“The time to learn who your partners are and what their capabilities and expectations are is not during an event,” Rock says. “We must build these relationships, work together, exercise together and learn from each other so that we can be prepared to provide the best care we can to our patients and our communities, which is what they expect and deserve.”

About The Author

Mark Swart

Mark Swart joined MultiCare Health System after retiring from Army Public Affairs at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wa. He has extensive storytelling and communications experience from operations around the globe. Mark enjoys being active outdoors, whether it is running, sailing, motorcycling or even working in his yard.

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