November 29, 2018

All Hands on Deck – Mission Health’s Emergency Services during Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence Emergency Services at Mission Health

By Samantha Kappalman

It took two years of planning to host the FEI World Equestrian Games in Mill Spring, North Carolina, earlier this year, and only a matter of minutes for plans to change course when Hurricane Florence made landfall.

Mission Health and the Mountain Area Healthcare Preparedness Coalition (MAHPC) participated in planning for the World Equestrian Games for nearly two years. MAHPC, an emergency service of Mission Health, started mobilizing in August of this year for the games. When Hurricane Florence hit, they were ready to go with tents for care and the region’s only mobile hospital and emergency room trailer with staff on-site every day.

“We took down everything set up for the games to send to eastern North Carolina,” said Mark Stepp, RN, EMT, Regional Health Care Preparedness Coordinator of the MAHPC. “We also received a request for a State Medical Support Shelter package for Clayton, North Carolina, which includes a 50-100-bed shelter for special needs. It’s the type of shelter where patients evacuated from a nursing home or hospital would be sent. We were tasked with setting up the shelter and managing it in cooperation with the state office of emergency management services (EMS). We ran the shelter for 16 days in Clayton – it was set up in a church to receive 50 patients.”

MAHPC had three full-time team members working during the hurricane. A driver was deployed to bring the shelter to Clayton, along with two Mission Health team members for 16 days. Mission Health had 10 total staff who volunteered to work on hurricane relief efforts at any given time, doing everything from driving the vehicle that pulls the trailers to coordinating efforts at the shelter and providing emergency medical care in austere conditions.

For a period of time, the city of Wilmington was an island. At the Wilmington shelter, conditions were so poor that staff were initially flown in by helicopter because there were no roads.

When Hurricane Florence made landfall, the State called on MAHPC again and requested medication cache, which needed to be in place by midnight. Mission Health pharmacists came in to fulfill additional staffing on a Saturday afternoon to quickly assemble and package the medications. Mark drove into the storm with $22,500 worth of medication. Additionally, Mission has a mobile pharmacy that consists of a 53-foot-long trailer with a clean room where chemo medications can be mixed.

“Mission maintains one of only two major medication cache in the state. This is the first time that the cache has been deployed in its entirety,” said Mark.

The response to Hurricane Florence is likely the biggest response that Mission Health has ever done in the history of the program since 2004.

“This is the first time that the state medical response system has partnered with federal teams to staff state shelters,” said Mark. “Every trailer we have was committed to a task in the region or to hurricane efforts (far and close by) with the exception of two (out of 12 trailers). We have never had that much activity or movement at one time in the history of the program. All eight healthcare coalitions from across the state were actively engaged in response efforts.”

After efforts were finished for Hurricane Florence, Mark said the MAHPC scrambled to get everything restocked and reordered in preparation for potential impact of Hurricane Michael on the way. Luckily, nothing was needed from the North Carolina State Medical Response System.

Mission Health is the sponsor hospital for the Mountain Area Healthcare Coalition, which is an emergency service of Mission Health. Volunteers continued to be paid by Mission Health during their Hurricane Florence duty. Do you want to volunteer to be part of healthcare preparedness? Sign up at