A twist on mobile military hospitals will be Connecticut’s newest line of defense against terrorism.
The state recently announced it will develop an $8.25 million mobile hospital to provide resources in response to terrorist attacks, infectious-disease outbreaks and accidents. The hospital, which will be comprised of a number of tents and trailers containing about $3 million of medical equipment, will be ready for limited use by this spring.
Though the planners initially sought a building for the hospital, they settled on the mobile approach, which can be moved from place-to-place as incidents arise, said Chris Cannon, system director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness at the Yale-New Haven Health System. In a crisis, the hospital could be transported to a given site within four to six hours and could be functioning at full capacity within one to two days.
“Quite frankly, the hospital is a 2005 approach to a flexible military hospital, though it’s definitely not going to be like what they portrayed on the [M*A*S*H] TV show,” Cannon said.
Plans for the hospital have been in the works for the past two and a half years as an ongoing response to the new threats posed to the country after the Sept. 11 attacks. The hospital has come to fruition through a joint effort by state and private hospital officials, including representatives from Hartford Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital. The funding for the hospital has already been secured by approved state bonding.
The central feature of the hospital will be its ability to isolate patients with infectious diseases for treatment, significantly decreasing the risk of infection of others, Cannon said. Doctors will be equipped with protective gear and vaccinated for particular infectious diseases, and patients will be grouped together in a way that normal hospitals would not be able to facilitate, said Dr. Louise Dembry, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine.
A 10-person committee overseeing the development of the hospital faces a number of challenges with this new venture, Cannon said. He said recruitment of doctors and staff will be a primary issue. The hospital is seeking volunteers from the 32 hospitals in Connecticut and recently sent a mailing to all licensed Connecticut medical professionals.
“The main requirement is that [volunteers] are willing to get involved and that they have the credentials,” Dembry said.
After recruitment, volunteers will be trained so they are familiar with the equipment and the unusual setup of the mobile hospital, she said.
Another important challenge in maintaining the hospital will be deciding when to use the hospital for isolation purposes and how to utilize the limited space.
“The hospital will only have 100 beds,” Dembry said. “There wouldn’t be enough beds if there was a large-scale disease in Connecticut.”
There are currently two other similar mobile hospitals in the United States, though the Connecticut hospital will not be modeled after either of them. There is currently a facility in limited use in Las Vegas and a tractor-trailer approach in the Carolinas geared more toward mass casualties. Cannon said while no perfect solution has been found, many states are working on responses to the new threats of terror.
He said that while the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been involved in Connecticut’s plans for the hospital, they do not have any particular model in mind for how states should combat terrorism and infectious diseases.