HHS Activates Disaster Teams for the First Time
The nation's health workers mobilized an "unprecedented" effort to respond to the thousands of injuries resulting from yesterday's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., the Wall Street Journal reports. In New York, there were more than 2,000 people reported injured, "and hospitals expected to see more." Arlington's Virginia Hospital Center, the official treatment center for the Pentagon casualties, had seen 37 injured people by last night. In response to the attacks, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson for the first time activated all 80 of the nation's special disaster teams, which were created to respond to national disasters, plane crashes and bombings. The 7,000 private-sector health personnel on those teams were prepared to go to New York or Virginia if necessary. Thompson also advised burn unit teams, surgery units, forensic doctors and dentists to "be ready" to go to the disaster sites. Late yesterday, four teams of doctors and paramedics went to Stewart National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., north of New York City, and three such teams went to the Anacostia Receiving Center in Washington, D.C. (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 9/12). Those teams each include 35 physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians and equipment and supplies to enable the team to be self-sufficient for 72 hours. The main job of the teams is to treat trauma victims at the disaster scene and to perform triage. Besides the medical teams, four mortuary teams consisting of morticians, anthropologists and forensic investigators were dispatched to New York and three to Washington to "identify victims and prepare them for burial." Late yesterday, the Military Sealift Command was preparing to dispatch to New York USNS Comfort, a hospital ship that carries 935 medical and support personnel and can treat at least 500 people (Okie/Brown, Washington Post, 9/12).
HHS officials said they will continue to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as health officials in New York and Virginia, to "assess medical needs and provide medical and emergency personnel" (HHS release, 9/11). Specifically, HHS is working with hospitals to "track their capacity and provide more beds if necessary" (Wall Street Journal, 9/12). The Department of Veterans Affairs is making available many emergency beds in its hospitals near the attack sites (HHS release, 9/11). Thompson also authorized the first-ever emergency use of the two-year-old National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, which will deliver "substantial" medical supplies to the disaster sites. The CDC is releasing one of eight prepackaged "12-Hour Push Packages," which contain medicines, intravenous supplies, airway supplies, emergency medications, bandages and dressings. Each "package" comprises "several truckloads of materials." In addition, the CDC is providing 84,000 bags of intravenous fluid and other intravenous supplies, 350 portable ventilators and 250 stationary ventilators (HHS release, 9/11). Besides HHS, the Falls Church, Va.-based American Red Cross Disaster Operations Center is on national alert and will dispatch "hundreds" of disaster specialists to the scenes (Bloomberg News, 9/11). During a news conference yesterday, Thompson said, "It is now our mission to begin healing from this tragedy. From the moment that we learned of these attacks, the Department of Health and Human Services has begun readying teams and resources to be sent to New York City and the Washington area to meet any needs of state and local officials. ... In short, we're making the full force of the Department of Health and Human Services, both as resources and medical expertise, available to the areas that need our assistance" (White House release, 9/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.