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Lessons from Katrina Patient care at medical center impacted if another hurricane threatens Keesler

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina have led to significant policy changes at Keesler Medical Center for the 2007 hurricane season. 

Brig. Gen. James Dougherty, 81st Medical Group commander, stressed during the recent 81st Training Wing commander's call that the medical center is no longer an approved shelter. Patients, dependents and staff won't shelter in the facility. 

Officials advise those who normally seek care at the medical center to make preparations in advance of hurricane season and be aware of the impact a storm could have on services.
I
n particular, patients are advised to fill prescriptions well in advance of a hurricane threat. This information is included on the pharmacy's telephone refill request system and stamped on take-out bags. 

If a hurricane targets Keesler, patient-care limitations and decisions depend on the storm's severity, category and path. 

Three to four days prior to anticipated landfall, access to medical care begins to be altered or limited. Closure of all medical services is closely associated with base evacuation or closure. 

Master Sgt. Mary Sarris, noncommissioned officer in charge of 81st MDG medical readiness training, said that depending on storm conditions, medical services are impacted at these estimated time frames before a hurricane's landfall: 

60 hours -- new admissions are done on a case-by-case basis, with only very minor short-term medical problems allowed. 

48 hours -- obstetric admissions may be stopped and surgeries and appointments may be cancelled. Medical personnel start to identify patients to be discharged or evacuated. The laboratory, immunizations and allergy clinic, radiology and the pharmacy may close, but could wait until the 36-hour point. 

36 hours -- all patients should be discharged or evacuated. All appointments and surgeries are cancelled and no patient care is provided. Medical shelter teams and storm mission-essential shelter teams should prepare to shelter. Medical group personnel not assigned to a shelter team should evacuate once the official order is given by the 81st Training Wing commander. 

24 hours -- all medical services are closed, including the emergency room. Ambulance service ceases once wind speeds reach or exceed 30 mph. 

The 51 medical personnel assigned to the rapid recovery team evacuate with 81st Training Group students or shelter on base if students are unable to evacuate. 

The 11-member ride-out team, a subset of the RRT, may shelter on base if the RRT evacuates with trainees. Ride-out team evacuation is storm-dependent. 

Each of the six base shelters has a four-person medical team to support trainee sheltering or the ride-out team. Routine care isn't offered and is limited to emergency care for shelter occupants only. 

Sergeant Sarris said pre-identified medical personnel on shelter teams are the medical group's only storm mission-essential personnel. All other medical personnel evacuate.