N.C. health team examines Mississippi response to Katrina

Published 6:22 pm Friday, August 4, 2006

Mississippi’s public health agency generally responded well to Hurricane Katrina, although a review team from North Carolina found areas for improvement and suggests the state deploy mobile treatment centers in future storms and create a system to track evacuated patients.

The Mississippi Department of Health asked colleagues in North Carolina to perform the review, which was conducted earlier this year and included more than 400 individual interviews. The conclusions were in a 242-page report released Thursday.

“What we’re looking at is medical surge capacity,” said Holli Hoffman, hospital preparedness coordinator for the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services. “It is being able to expand your current health care services, whether that be in terms of personnel, equipment, pharmaceuticals or just space.”

The report said Mississippi should buy three mobile treatment centers so officials can respond to disasters in different parts of the state. It also called for a uniform system of tracking patients so they don’t get lost in the system.

“While we are aware of our accomplishments, we also know there is room for improvement,” said Jim Craig, director of Health Protection at the Mississippi Department of Health and the agency’s incident commander during Katrina, in a statement.

The report also recommended establishing an advance registry system for health professionals, so they are known to emergency management officials before a storm arrives and can be called into service when needed, Hoffman said.

North Carolina is looking at a system that uses phone, fax and text message to call health professionals into action, she said.

States nationwide should also agree on a standardized system of identifying a patient’s level of injury, “so in a mass casualty situation everybody goes to the right place and gets care,” Hoffman said.

North Carolina’s reviewers also examined issues surrounding mass fatalities and how to handle identifications of remains in such circumstances. They recommended Mississippi hire a state medical examiner.

North Carolina’s review included officials from the state Department of Health and Human Services, the state Division of Emergency Management and the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hoffman said the recommendations also are helping North Carolina improve its preparation for disasters. A key initiative being pursued in the state is to use seven community colleges near the coast as evacuation centers and emergency health care facilities, Hoffman said.

On the Net:

The report to Mississippi: www.msdh.state.ms.us/msdhsite/—static/44,0,122,63.html