Austin-area hospitals: ‘We are ready for mass casualty situations’

Sign at Dell Seton Medical Center (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Sign at Dell Seton Medical Center (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 500 injured people flooded into Las Vegas hospitals overnight Sunday, leaving doctors and surgeons overwhelmed with patients. In Austin, some hospitals say they are ready to respond if something were to happen closer to home.

Outside Dell Seton Medical Center on Monday, the flag flew at half-staff in honor of the Las Vegas shooting victims. Inside the building is where doctors say practice makes perfect.

“It’s always going to catch you by surprise, it’s always going to be a resources are limited situation so you want to be able to practice as much as you can,” said Dr. Carlos Brown, the chief of trauma at Dell Seton Medical Center. He says the practices help prepare the hospitals for real life scenarios.

“The last mass casualty event was probably the SXSW crash [in 2014], we got 7 or 8 critically injured patients,” Brown said.

It was then that doctors quickly realized the importance of communication.

“What we learned from it was communication is always a challenge, communicating across multiple systems, different communications lines was always a challenge,” Brown said. “One thing about a mass casualty is it’s not a single hospital, it’s the entire trauma system in the region. Austin has multiple hospitals, multiple trauma centers, they would all have to come together. So without question, communication across hospitals, across organizations from EMS to police to fire to the hospitals is probably one of the top two or three things in a mass casualty.”

Hospitals across Central Texas rely on annual practice drills to keep things going from bad to worse.

“One of the goals of the practice drills is to make sure, when the time comes, we can get the right patients to the right hospitals,” said Dr. Ken Mitchell, chief medical officer at St. David’s Healthcare.

Dr. Brown says the idea behind the drills is to figure out just that.

“The idea is that the patients would be triaged at the scene with an incident command and then take the sickest most injured patients to the highest level trauma centers and then the less injured patients, say the walking and wounded could go to either lower level trauma centers or non-trauma centers,” Brown said.

Dell Seton Medical Center is a Level One Trauma Center, meaning it must be capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury from prevention to rehabilitation. In order to qualify as Level one, a hospital must have 24 hour coverage by general surgeons, take in patients for communities in nearby regions.and operate an organized teaching and research effort to help direct new innovations in care.

Dell Seton has more than 200 beds they’re ready to use for mass casualty victims.

“We have 54 emergency room beds, 6 of which are trauma beds. However in a mass casualty situation all 54 could become trauma beds,” Brown said.

When the dust settles in Las Vegas, doctors in Austin hope to gain new knowledge about how to handle a scary but very real possibility.

“Hospitals all across the country will be able to learn from those lesson and be better prepared if an event like that occurs in our community,” said Dr. Mitchell.

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