N.C.’s State Medical Assistance Teams returning home

October 25, 2005
(Eds. Note – Opportunity to localize. Contact your Regional Advisory Committee, listed in the index column: http://cms.premis.net/smat )

RALEIGH – With Hurricane Wilma looming, and their role as health care providers diminishing in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Waveland, Miss., North Carolina’s four State Medical Assistance Team trailers and complement of staff packed up their gear and headed home Thursday.

Teams will be returning to their hospital bases tonight and tomorrow as the 25-vehicle motorcade makes its way home after nearly seven weeks of providing medical services in a community that lost hospital services when Katrina damaged Hancock Medical Center and wiped out miles of coastal settlement.

“It’s been quite an experience for all of us,” said Drexdal Pratt, chief of the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services, which coordinated the relief response along with the N.C. Division of Emergency Management. “Our folks have provided important services to folks down there. There were folks who lost everything. I mean everything. Yet they were so appreciative of the services we provided.

“We’ve closely monitored the rebuilding of the local infrastructure, and as they’ve brought it back, we’ve been scaling back. It was a partnership. We just provided services they needed until they could get theirs up and running.”

Since their deployment from North Carolina on Sept. 2, the SMAT teams have seen weekly rotations of staff that resulted in more than 500 medical professionals from across the state taking turns providing care to residents and workers along the gulf coast of Mississippi. Operating from a Kmart parking lot that first had to be cleared of storm debris, the teams provided care to more than 7,400 patients and assisted a dog with a broken hip until veterinary help arrived.

It was the first deployment of the state’s S-MAT trailers and the MED-1 portable hospital from Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center, equipment originally designed and built to help North Carolina recover from a man-made or natural disaster. As it was, the State of Mississippi requested help, and North Carolina responded through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a congressionally ratified organization that provides interstate mutual aide with issues of liability and reimbursement addressed in advance.

The Med-1 hospital unit departed the area Oct. 15, and the S-MAT components stayed behind to continue N.C.’s State Medical Assistance Teams
operating an urgent care center through Oct. 19. “We continued to offer free medical care to people who were banging themselves up in the cleanup and rebuilding effort,” Pratt said. “But now the doctors are returning to the area and the schools are reopening. And, there’s Wilma out there.”

Pratt said the weeks following the return will be used to evaluate the response, analyze any problems and brainstorm strategies to improve the next deployment. “We’ll want to do several debriefings at the regional levels,” he said.

The North Carolina response incorporates personnel and equipment from acute care hospitals and emergency medical services across the state, all coordinated through the state’s seven Regional Advisory Committees (RAC) on trauma. The lead trauma center in each RAC coordinated the staffing for the units from member hospitals of the RAC.

SMAT teams were comprised of healthcare workers from hospitals, EMS agencies and public health agencies across North Carolina. The RAC hospitals contributing teams were Duke University Medical Center (Durham), Mission Hospitals (Asheville), New Hanover Health Network (Wilmington), Pitt County Memorial Hospital (Greenville), UNC Hospitals (Chapel Hill), Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem), Carolinas Medical Center, (Charlotte), and Wake Med (Raleigh).