Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
The old adage is still sound operational advice when dealing with the ever-evolving realm of public health disasters and threats.
With emerging health hazards, escalating levels of dangerous activities, and devastating natural disasters included in the 'all cause' mix, the officials responsible for the community's health and safety have found they must continually update, evaluate, adjust, prepare and communicate their preparedness plans to a diverse set of stakeholders.
The question isn't just when but also what the next attack of man or nature will produce. The good news is there is credible evidence that even one person who knows and understands what to do in the moment of an impending disaster can save thousands of lives.
In the Nashville area, the Tennessee Highland Rim Healthcare Coalition is a resource to make sure there are many who know what to do in case of emergency. The organization offers disaster response training, develops rescue plans, and evaluates potentially dangerous scenarios to design the best response to short or long term incidents that have a public health and medical impact within the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Region Five.
The state is divided into eight EMS regions that coordinate planning, organizing, equipping, training and evaluating the healthcare systems working within their respective geographic boundaries. Each region is charged with knowing how to mobilize medical attention and response personnel in times of emergency, how to enlist and register personnel as part of the coalition, as well as identifying the most dangerous threats and the ones for which they are best prepared to resist. Additionally, the coalitions are charged with the evaluation of the preparedness of health systems and providers in their region.
James Tabor, MSM, CEP, who serves as regional hospital coordinator for Public Health Emergency Preparedness for the Tennessee Highland Rim Coalition, said the willingness to work together is critical when it comes to 'boots on the ground.' He added he is proud of the expanded outlook the coalition has incorporated into its operations.
"We understand that sharing information and knowing each other makes a huge difference in response to a crisis. A disaster is not when you want to meet people or the first time," he observed.
The Tennessee Highland Rim Healthcare Coalition meets the third Thursday of each month at the Lentz Public Health Department on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville to focus on preparing for public health and medical emergencies including, pandemics, floods and other natural disasters, and acts of terrorism that have increasingly become part of the stress of living in the 21st century. This year alone they have coordinated response to 12 events, including having plans in place for the large crowds that gathered for the recent solar eclipse.
Although the group spends a lot of time thinking about how to best respond to potential threats, their role is actually different. Tabor explained, "The Highland Rim Coalition is not a response agency. It is a highly trained team that is available to help coordinate responses by deploying medical personnel in times of emergencies."
Members of the coalition are trained to recognize that accurate and up-to-date information can make a huge difference in an effective response to a crisis. The old model for response meant sending help based on a facility's number of beds. Now allocations are made using formulas to ensure resources and care can be spread to expand to all of the areas where it is needed.
Disease outbreaks, natural catastrophes, and public violence aren't just reruns of problems seen before. Instead, each trigger event features new twists, weapons and consequences for responders to evaluate and understand. Continually updated protocols and policies are offshoots of new experiences and scenarios.
Leadership of the Highland Rim team includes Chairman Jeff Mangrum, director of emergency preparedness for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a trauma nurse by training; Co-chairman Jason Erlewine, emergency preparedness coordinator for TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center who helped make that hospital the first in Middle Tennessee to earn a 'storm ready' designation; and Treasurer David Wheeler, system safety officer/emergency preparedness coordinator for Medxcel based at St. Thomas Health. In addition to Tabor, who is with the Metro Nashville Pubic Health Department, Donita Woodall with the Tennessee Department of Health also serves as a key contact.
For more information on the Tennessee Highland Rim Health Care Coalition, upcoming trainings and available resources, go online to tnhrhcc.com.