Bombing-related surge would swamp most U.S. trauma centers

Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, millions of dollars have gone into stockpiling drugs, masks and equipment to combat biological weapons such as Anthrax. But after a decade of gearing up for headline-grabbing germ warfare, U.S. trauma centers aren't much better equipped to handle a surge of victims from a far more likely bomb attack, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Although trauma care tends to be expensive due to 24/7 staffing requirements and poorly compensated because it disproportionately affects the young and uninsured, most states have a system of designated facilities to handle the most severe injuries. But even with trauma surgeons and operating rooms available 24 hours a day, most big-city hospitals already have to re-route ambulances during the course of a typical, terror-free day.

To be truly prepared for a disaster, hospitals need enough staffing to be able to quickly ramp up capacity by 20 or 30 percent if necessary, Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann, former chairman of emergency medicine at Emory University in Atlanta and now head of RAND Corp.'s public-health and preparedness program, told the newspaper. At the same time, he said, hospitals need to have a plan to swiftly clear the emergency room, cancel elective procedures and admissions, increase triage areas and immediately discharge patients who can safely leave.

A 2007 study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that, "Without immediate federal assistance, many, if not most, communities would have difficulty caring for a surge of victims."

Gregg Pane, head of hospital preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told WSJ that hospitals are actually "much better prepared than we were five or 10 years ago, but certainly a big incident in a city would be a challenge."

To learn more:
- read this Kaiser Health News article via The Medical News
- read this Wall Street Journal piece