Island’s medical professionals invited to help prepare for disaster

This weekend, the island’s health care professionals are invited to take part in a one-day symposium intended to bolster Vashon’s medical capabilities following a disaster.

Islands of the Salish Sea: Preparing for Disasters will meet from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Land Trust Building. Organizers hope that island physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors and pharmacists will attend. The suggested donation is $20.

John Osborn, MD, is a co-coordinator of the island’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and one of the organizers of the event. The initial focus, he said, is to identify people on the island who have experience with patient care and who should be part of the MRC.

When he was recruited to the role, he said he looked around for good models for an island-based medical reserve corps, which helped shape some of Saturday’s program.

“One of the goals is recognizing the shared challenges that island communities face and to learn from each other to determine what is working, what is not, and build on the experience and wisdom out there, he said.

The morning will include a variety of speakers and topics, including a presentation by local historian Bruce Haulman on previous island disasters. A representative from King County will discuss its experiences with rural and island medical reserve corps. And Stephen Morris, MD, MPH, who is UW Medicine’s lead for disaster preparedness and education, will present lessons from Cascadia Rising.

Afternoon sessions will include the presentation “What Katrina Taught Me,” by Art French, MD, who is board-certified in emergency medicine and a member of the National Disaster Medical System. He has been on numerous disaster deployments, including the mass patient evacuation at the New Orleans International Airport during Hurricane Katrina.

The afternoon will also include a panel of health care professionals from Bainbridge Island and Vashon regarding what is working and what is not for island medical reserve corps and a session on how best to move forward.

Because many health care professionals are frequently off the island, Osborn said the goal for the Vashon MRC is to have leadership teams three people deep for each category: clinicians, nurses, pharmacists and mental health professionals.

When a disaster strikes, he said, the plan is for someone in leadership to step in and put together teams, who will work with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue in the overall response framework.

Osborn, an emergency room physician himself, noted that there is no reserve in the current hospital system and that many ERs are more than full routinely. In a disaster, they will be flooded with people. Moreover, islands are expected to be cut off from the mainland, and Vashon is among the communities that will need to care of their own — making a robust medical reserve corps critically important.

Saturday’s event is sponsored by the MRC and VashonBePrepared. For more information, contact mrc@vashonbeprepared.org.

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