VCU Health, first responders in ‘continuous preparation stage’ for mass casualty events

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As mass shootings continue to make headlines, local officials are preparing for the worst, and suggest the public should prepare as well.

“The mass casualty situation for us, the way we look at it is not ‘if,’ but it’s a ‘when,'” Dr. Michel Aboutanos, the chief of trauma and acute care surgery at VCU Health Trauma Center, said.

Dr. Aboutanos, an expert in trauma care in the region, said VCU Health is always ready for an influx of patients.

“There’s various types of preparation. There is preparation we do within the hospital as a trauma center- how do we respond?” Dr. Aboutanos said. “But more important there’s how do we coordinate with the rest of the hospitals in the region so we have a coordinated response.”

Dr. Aboutanos said hospitals consider mass casualty situations to be anytime a hospital’s resources are overwhelmed.

VCU Health is a Level I Trauma Center, so it has the resources to handle a large number of patients each day. For instance, it might have around 25 patients on a Saturday, but the hospital staff is always ready in case there are more.

“We are on a continuous preparation stage and people don’t know that; they think we just prepare every once in a while and that doesn’t work anymore,” Dr. Aboutanos said.

Richmond Ambulance Authority, or RAA, is always prepared as well. RAA’s new members’ training teaches responders how to coordinate a response to a mass casualty event. Everything is mapped out, including what to do in all sorts of situations like an explosion, a train accident, a shooting or a natural disaster.

“We see so much on the news and horror on the news today related to man-made disasters, but there’s also many natural disasters that we see in this region such as hurricanes or other natural disasters where people, the citizens of our community, can be injured– critically injured– and have limbs or other injuries that cause massive hemorrhage and blood loss,” Beth Broering, the nursing director of VCU Health Trauma Center, said.

That’s why she and other authorities must be prepared to take action before help arrives.

“Our goal is to train citizens of our community on how to try to stop the bleeding early in order to prevent that blood loss, and hopefully reduce the burden of injury and save many lives,” Broering said.

Using a tourniquet, even if it’s homemade, or applying pressure to a wound could make all the difference.

“If we can get everybody trained to do some minor things just to stop the bleeding, that will help the pre-hospital providers when they get there and that will also help the hospital to optimize the chance for us to be able to save more lives,” Dr. Aboutanos said.

VCU Health officials recommend to the community that if someone is critically injured, remain calm, ask someone to call 911 and apply pressure to the bleeding area. Help should be there soon. RAA is staged all across the city and they say their response time is almost always less than five minutes.

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