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Mobile Medical Units Touted for Quick Disaster Response

LAFAYETTE, La. -- An Acadiana-based mobile medical response team deployed after disasters appealed to legislators Thursday to duplicate its efforts across the state.

"This is the next generation of disaster response," said Dr. Andy Blalock, a Lafayette physician who is the executive director of the Louisiana Emergency Medical Unit program.

The mobile medical units were deployed following hurricanes Gustav and Ike last year and alleviated local emergency rooms in Lafayette, Abbeville, Erath, Delcambre and Thibodaux.

Blalock met with area legislators, including Senate finance committee chairman, Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette; and chairman of the state's select homeland security committee, Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, in Lafayette on Thursday to pitch the expansion.

Blalock proposed that the state fund the mobile units and the emergency medical unit program coordinate the deployment and operations of the units, staffed by medical volunteers.

Lessons learned by the medical community who staffed a medical clinic in the Cajundome to meet the needs of evacuees of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 led to LEMU's development a year later.

In the first 10 days, the makeshift clinic at the Cajundome saw 3,500 patients and relieved local hospitals, that had seen 3,500 patients above their normal patient volume, Blalock said.

"Without the clinic, we would have been looking at a real medical crisis," Blalock said.

There is no other medical response program created to handle the surge of patients emergency rooms experience after a disaster, according to Blalock.

"We need to be ready in hours," he told legislators. "Strategic placement across the state is crucial and we're going to need some support to make that happen."

Walsworth recognized the potential impact of a statewide program and the opportunity to place the units roadside and in New Orleans.

"There's not a whole lot of medical facilities between Opelousas and Alexandria as we're trying to get a million people out of south Louisiana," he said.

Walsworth said the units could also be instrumental in responding to industrial disasters.

Blalock said the units are chameleon-like and can easily change to fit the response need, including clinics, pharmacies or a three-phased decontamination unit.

Each trailer costs about $252,000 for the vehicle and to outfit with it supplies, fixture, liability insurance, electronics and a generator.

A complete unit includes three clinical trailers, a mobile pharmacy trailer and a mobile command center trailer. Another $104,000 would be needed each year to sustain the unit in insurance costs, technology, maintenance, supplies and storage.

State Rep. Simone Champagne, D-Jeanerette, credited the emergency medical unit for its assistance following Ike.

"It relieved us as elected officials," Champagne said. "We were on the ground looking for water and ice."

Color photo: A team of Louisiana Emergency Medical Unit trailers is stored Thursday at the United Way facility in Lafayette. The trailers are deployed for medical emergencies following natural disasters. (Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK)

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