Grant-funded field hospital will serve region

January 23, 2007
Victims of future disasters in Southeastern North Carolina may receive assistance in a more timely, and possibly lifesaving, manner from a mobile field hospital based at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

The new grant-funded $450,000 State Medical Assistance Team (SMAT) trailer arrived just after Jan. 1. Crews can take the 53-foot trailer to the scene of a disaster and set up a 60-bed medical facility, ready to provide trauma, orthopedic, inpatient and intensive care services.

Mark Bennett, the Emergency Response and Recovery Coordinator for the Southeastern Regional Advisory Committee, actually designed the new trailer after working with similar set-ups in Waveland, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina.

“I saw a hodgepodge of services and equipment in Waveland,” he said. “We have vastly upgraded what we had there, and this trailer is the result.”

This is the third SMAT trailer situated in North Carolina. Five others will arrive at trauma centers later this year. The priority for this SMAT trailer is a six-county area in Southeastern North Carolina, which includes New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow, Columbus and Bladen counties.
Should a disaster strike here, the SMAT trailer and team will respond, staffed by workers from area hospitals and EMS units.

“From the time the crew arrives, they can have the field hospital fully functional in only four hours, with the capability to see 325 patients a day,” Bennett said.

The SMAT can also become a support facility for New Hanover Regional or one of the region’s other hospitals.

“If one of the local facilities is devastated by a storm or other disaster, and the infrastructure went offline or staff had to evacuate patients, we could set up right alongside their hospital,” Bennett said. “Their staff could operate in our tents, without losing a beat. It could also become a pre-pandemic facility, in case of a flu outbreak.”

The SMAT trailer has features the crews did not have while working along the Gulf Coast following Katrina. It has equipment that can purify 1,600 gallons of water a day, and a filtration system to purify the air. It has enough space for 22 staff members to sleep. In Waveland, Bennett says workers had to sleep on the ground, under awnings, or on empty hospital beds because of a lack of space. The trailer also has an 80-kilowatt generator, which will provide enough electricity to run a full hospital.

SMAT was paid for with a federal Health Resources Services Administration grant to the state. Other grant monies will pay for additional equipment for the trailer.

“We will have full x-ray capability and lab analysis within the next six months,” Bennett said. “We have also received a grant that will allow us to put in a full inpatient pharmacy. That should be available within a year.”

For more information on the State Medical Assistance Team, visit