Healthcare System introduces the next evolution of its mass care response service – providing one of New Jersey’s most unique emergency response units for potential mass-casualty situations
After five successful years serving the City of Paterson as well as Passaic County with in-the-field disaster and emergency medical care, St. Joseph’s Health’s Mass Care Response Unit (MCRU) is again evolving to help address needs and save lives in a new age of mass-casualty situations. What started as a means of responding to large scale events in the aftermath of 9-11, quickly grew to supporting emergency services agencies in all aspects of field operations. Such was the case with the Paterson Fire Department where on-site treatment of fire victims as well as firefighters and rescue teams has evolved into a mobile emergency care “treatment facility” - available anywhere, in any weather, and at any time. The MCRU is specifically designed to handle the situations the world sees today, from potential terrorist attacks in sporting arenas that hold tens of thousands to natural emergencies like Superstorm Sandy.
“No doubt, 9-11 was a game changer in how we all think about and prepare for disasters,” said Bob Bertollo, Program Manager for Emergency Response Operations at St. Joseph’s Health. “Each time we hear about incidents in the news, it hits a little closer to home and everyone starts thinking with even greater conviction that ‘we could be next’. Therefore, we re-focused the mission of our Mass Care Response Unit driven by this same thought… if our community is next, we are better prepared to help maximize the number of lives saved and help all emergency services on the front line.”
St. Joseph’s Health’s MCRU is equipped to provide care onsite in a variety of roles - ranging from support of stabilization and transfer for large numbers of victims at an emergency event site to sustaining extended on-scene medical care operations. This multi-role capability allows for improved treatment, increased response personnel safety, and greater utilization of ambulance services to transport patients. The MCRU brings together St. Joseph’s best paramedics, physicians, respiratory therapists and nurses to provide care in the field for large numbers of people. It is equipped with:
- Life support emergency medical supplies
- Cardiac monitors/defibrillators
- Field emergency response/triage kits
- A mass oxygen administration system
- Medical monitoring/on-scene rehabilitation
- All-weather command/treatment shelters
- Scene lighting and 30,000-watt on-board electrical power generator
The St. Joseph’s MCRU team brings the over 40,000 pound vehicle’s capabilities to bear - setting up care stations in the field to treat injuries, stabilize victims and provide “preventative healthcare,” for responders. With potential applications including mass-casualty situations, the MCRU unit and its crew are equipped to provide quality care quickly and for as many people as possible; for example, the on-board oxygen system allows administration for up to forty patients at one time.
“We’ve all seen footage of the Paris attacks, Boston Marathon bombing, and more,” continued Bertollo. “There is panic, chaos and massive crowds. Traditional deployment procedures for emergency medical services are often inadequate during large scale events. We act as a clinical force multiplier. Prepared to fulfill a multitude of roles, the MCRU can greatly extend the effectiveness of all on-scene emergency medical care. Simply put, that results in greater safety and more lives saved.”
“As a part of asset building for readiness activities, the government provided each county with a MCRU,” said James Pruden, MD, Emergency Services Physician, St. Joseph’s University Medical Center and Director, Emergency Preparedness, St. Joseph’s Health. “Many vehicles are sitting in warehouses waiting for the ‘big event’ but Bob found a way to connect the MCRU to the needs of the community, from local firefighters to serving youth with health-based and educational programming.”
The St. Joseph’s MCRU will, of course, continue its presence beyond the realm of mass-casualty situations. This means responding to high-volume community events and evolving emergency events.
Foundations, Achievements and Growth
From its inception, the St. Joseph’s Health’s MCRU mission grew from a realization that not only were victims suffering during a crisis, but so were the emergency crews working to provide emergency medical care, rescue services, firefighting, and law enforcement response. The team at St. Joseph’s developed a working relationship with the City of Paterson Fire Department to better define what type of in-the-field care was needed for the firefighting crews as well as the victims.
One of the most important benefits of this service is what it can do for rescue personnel. These responders are just as vulnerable to injury and fatigue as the people they work tirelessly to save, and this immediately became clear in discussions with the Paterson Fire Department.
“As an example, recently it was negative three degrees and a fire broke out in Paterson” said Dr. Pruden, “You mix those temperatures with water and you could have a real problem. The St. Joseph’s MCRU is crucial in harsh and foreboding situations such as this, providing rehabilitation services to the fire fighters out on the job.”
In terms of rescue crew health and safety, the MCRU is prepared to provide medical monitoring, rehydration services and work recovery which promotes the body’s vital signs returning more quickly back to safe levels - especially in extreme cold or heat. It didn’t take long before the unit began to prove itself with the Paterson Fire Department in multi-alarm fire situations and now it is branching out to assist rescue crews in other crisis and potential mass-casualty situations.
The St. Joseph’s MCRU has an impressive track record of service including nationally televised football games, local charity runs, bike-a-thons and other community events - like the Passaic County Fair, and the 9-11 Memorial Tunnel-Towers Run. The MCRU has also been on the scene during numerous emergency situations ranging from flood rescue to large-scale power outages. St. Joseph’s plans to continue to build on this history of achievements while evolving for the modern world.
“Fulfilling the Mass Care Response Unit mission depends on our ability to build on every experience… on taking lessons from the past, observing the changes happening around us, and staying one step ahead for the future,” said Bertollo. “Our role has grown far beyond the walls of the hospital itself. As the world has changed, our provision of care truly knows no boundaries. We will be wherever care is needed.”
March 11, 2016