California agency finds creative way to maintain disaster response
In an industry known for its innovative thinking, the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) has found a particularly creative solution to deal with budget constraints, allowing the agency to maintain critical disaster readiness without stressing the state’s general fund.
California’s budget shortfall required the state to reexamine its disaster preparedness resources. As a result, EMSA–a public agency charged with providing leadership in developing and implementing EMS systems throughout the state, including promoting disaster medical preparedness–was forced to find other funding sources to maintain its three mobile field hospitals. The hospitals provide state-level medical response to a catastrophic disaster in the event that local hospitals are damaged or overwhelmed.
The 200-bed field hospitals were purchased in 2006 for $18.3 million from BLU-MED Response Systems, following a competitive bid process. In less than 72 hours, the hospitals can be fully deployed in any area of the state, to respond to a variety of natural or man-made disasters. However, the annual cost to store, maintain all three field hospitals in response-ready condition and have immediate wrap-around logistics capabilities, including trucks, set-up teams, catering, water supply, showers, toilet facilities and pharmacy, is $1.7 million.
With time running out, EMSA was left with few options. It could solicit private donations to cover the cost, seek donated space to store the hospitals in less-than-strategic locations, or donate them to international or domestic organizations.
The June 30 deadline made finding donors problematic. The 15,000 square-feet of warehouse space needed to store each hospital was another limitation. Regardless, the agency was determined to find a way to save what it considered a necessary resource.
That’s when BLU-MED came up with the idea to offer the hospitals for rent to agencies outside of California. BLU-MED agreed to cover the cost of maintaining the hospitals with the understanding that, if needed, the company could deploy up to two of the medical facilities wherever they’re needed. The agency requesting the hospital would pay BLU-MED for the use of the facility. As part of the agreement, BLU-MED has promised to return it to EMSA in as good or better condition than it was when it was before it was deployed.
“We are leveraging the resources we have,” said Lisa Schoenthal, EMSA chief of the disaster medical services division. EMSA, as the lead agency responsible for coordinating California’s medical response to disasters, provides medical resources to local governments in support of their disaster response. The innovative plan ensures that at least one hospital is available at no cost to California taxpayers.
The advantage for other EMS agencies, hospitals, governments or nations is that, for a small monthly fee, they can subscribe to this unique preparedness program, and then if needed, request a fully equipped field hospital on the fly without having to store or maintain it with no initial capital outlay.
Each hospital includes a 20-bed, fully equipped intensive care unit, emergency department/trauma center, operating suite, lab, portable, digital X-ray unit, 180 medical/surgical beds and separate housing for up to 150 staff members.
BLU-MED maintains the facilities, biomedical equipment and supplies power plants, pharmacy and oxygen-generation equipment. The medical equipment management program is overseen by fully licensed and qualified biomedical technicians. The pharmacy is managed by licensed pharmacists and maintained in a DEA/FDA approved facility.
Because of its modular layout, subscribing entities can request the full unit or just portions of it.
The entire facility can be airlifted to arrive anywhere in the U.S. within 72 hours with pre-registration. Subscribing is relatively quick. However, the process typically requires a contract review by the city council or warrant officer, various approvals and sole source authorizations.
“For us, it’s just a matter of receiving a signed contract from an authorized person,” says Christopher K. Lake, PhD, vice president of BLU-MED. The “On-call Program” also required a certain amount of pre-planning, such as site selection, which ensures that everything is in place when disaster strikes.
The issue with this program, according to Lake is not logistics, but paperwork. BLU-MED’s “On-call Program” allows subscribing members to pre-plan for a response by completing the necessary paperwork ahead of time and pre-planning where the hospital will be.
EMS agencies interested in leasing a field hospital can contact Lake at BLU-MED toll free at 888/680-7181 or 916/996-4977.