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EMS Systems Face Reduced Burn Bed Availability

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EMS systems throughout the U.S. need to revise their MCI strategies to plan for the air transfer of burn patients to large burn care centers throughout the U.S. With an increasing number of facilities closing down burn beds due to their high maintenance cost and poor insurance reimbursement from the government, EMS systems could find themselves with limited regional burn beds in the event of a major fire or terrorist attack. In the past four years, five regional burn centers have ceased operating in the U.S., resulting in a loss of 77 burn beds. And the numbers may increase in the future.

With only 1,500 burn beds available throughout the country today, as compared to 3,000 in the '70s, and most of those beds occupied at any given time, even an incident involving 100 burn patients will severely tax local and regional resources.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that on average just six to 10 beds -- out of the 300 to 500 available for new patients -- are open in any given state on a daily basis.

Ten states (20%) have more reason to worry about how they'll manage multiple burn victims than the others. EMS crews in Mississippi, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and New Hampshire don't currently have accessible burn centers, and South Carolina only has a children's burn center. Maine, Alaska and Hawaii have only a limited number of dedicated burn beds available.

Some U.S. regions don't have an empty burn bed within 800 miles, so there would be a significant loss of lives from burns and the resulting infections that develop post-burn if a major fire or terrorist attack occurred in the area.

With terrorism experts predicting the possibility of a future dirty bomb attack on U.S. soil, EMS agencies could find themselves with hundreds, if not thousands, of severely burned patients and no ability to transfer them rapidly outside their region if they don't develop a coordinated plan with the military -- particularly their Air National Guard units. Develop an updated transfer plan in conjunction with your emergency management, hospital and communications center officials before a major event occurs in you area.

For more on this potential burn bed crisis, click here for a USA Today story on the subject.

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