Preparedness & Recovery

Eclipse Emergency Response a Region-Wide Effort

'We are absolutely hopeful that it’s a Y2K-type event and nothing ends up happening, but we know that if we don’t prepare for it, then we are not going to be able to handle it if it happens.'

by Jena Sauber, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo. / August 17, 2017

(TNS) - In anticipation of a large influx of visitors through the solar eclipse Monday, area emergency response organizations and health-care providers are finalizing areawide plans to respond to potential emergency situations.

“This is fairly unprecedented, uncharted territory,” said Brady Dubois, Mosaic Life Care medical center president. “We are absolutely hopeful that it’s a Y2K-type event and nothing ends up happening, but we know that if we don’t prepare for it, then we are not going to be able to handle it if it happens.”

Mosaic Life Care, Buchanan County, Mo., Emergency Management and other area health-care providers have spent almost the last year coordinating large-scale plans to respond to emergency medical situations through the end of the solar eclipse Aug. 21. Much of the additional response will start over the weekend.

“We’ve heard the numbers from 10,000 people to a million. Somewhere in there is the truth,” said Derek Conz, director of security and emergency management for Mosaic. “At the end of the day, it’s still going to be an influx. We know that. We have to be prepared to handle whatever that may be.”

On-site medical care will be available throughout the area, including at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, East Hills Shopping Center and Heritage Park. The tents will be staffed by volunteers, including providers from area EMS teams, the City of St. Joseph Health Department, Northwest Health Services and ARC Physical Therapy.

Additional ambulances, including multiple teams from the Springfield, Missouri, area, also will be in St. Joseph for the eclipse. They will have 18 ambulances on the streets, up from the department’s typical five, said Steve Groshong with the Buchanan County EMS. A bicycle response team from Maryland also will be in St. Joseph to respond to 911 calls.

“I think the biggest challenge is going to be traffic,” Groshong said. “We have lots and lots of people and lots of units. I think physically trying to get our units around town is going to be the biggest problem.”

Some areas, including the Pony Express Bridge between Rosecrans Airport and St. Joseph, could pose larger traffic problems, he said. Two medical helicopters will be stationed in the area if problems arise.

“We may end up doing unusual things,” Groshong said. “If we have a really acute patient and we are having trouble getting to the hospital, we may have a flight in town. Normally, we don’t do that because it doesn’t make sense, but it may make sense on Monday.”

At Mosaic, preparation has included additional staffing and supplies, as well as contingency plans to handle a potential influx of patients, Dubois said. Their area clinics also will be open for walk-in patients and a few regularly scheduled appointments. An outdoor tent area at the hospital will handle low-level patients as necessary.

“The challenge is that we are it,” Dubois said. “It doesn’t really matter what our (capacity) ends up being. We have to find a way to manage it and take care of it. For us to say, ‘We are good up to 180 in-patients or we are good up to 50 ER patients,’ that’s not going to make a difference. They are going to show up.”

The scale of the operation is unlike anything the hospital has seen, but they have been planning for almost a year, Conz said.

“Worst case scenario is that we get to the point to where, at our campus, people are just coming and coming and coming and we run out of parking space. We run out of the ability to treat people immediately. Again, we have a contingency plan for that,” Conz said. “If that does happen, worst case, we have a plan to where we are going to have to be very mobile in our treatment. That may be you being treated on a sidewalk. That’s worst case.”

Buchanan County EMS and Mosaic providers encourage people to be safe, eat enough and drink plenty of water and take medications as prescribed. Call or text 911 if emergency medical care is needed, or utilize available care for nonemergencies. Refrain from illegal drug use, especially as emergency response time will be delayed due to traffic, Dubois said.

“We hope that we have minimal influx,” he said. “We hope that people plan accordingly, that they don’t overindulge. That they do their due diligence to understand that their bodies can only withstand so much exposure without nutrition or hydration. We don’t want them in a bad situation.”

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©2017 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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