Hospitals are vulnerable to tragedies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. John Zelem, a physician advisor for three community hospitals, shares his thoughts on the tragedy that struck Rolling Fork, Mississippi Friday.
A powerful deadly tornado tore through Rolling Fork, Mississippi Friday and proceeded east for many miles creating an all too familiar scenario that occurs every spring. This is an area called “tornado alley” and it lives up to its reputation. Aside from the reported loss of 25 lives in Rolling Fork, there was another victim of sorts, and that was the Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork as it was damaged. Unfortunately, this not an uncommon occurrence.
Natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes, do not selectively avoid hospitals and healthcare facilities. Two in particular come to mind although there are many:
- A large and devastating deadly EF5 tornado on the evening of Sunday, May 22, 2011, began just west of Joplin and intensified very quickly, reaching a maximum width of nearly one mile (1.6 km) during its path through the southern part of the city. The tornado devastated a large portion of the city of Joplin, destroying nearly 4,000 buildings including one of Joplin’s two hospitals. RACmonitor and Monitor Mondays reported on this tornado and continued reporting on the aftermath.
- The infamous “Tupelo Tornado” was an F5 tornado that struck the northeastern Mississippi city of Tupelo on 5 April 1936. With a death toll of over two hundred people, it was the fourth deadliest tornado in the history of the United States. The twister was part of a vast eastward-moving storm system that swept across the Southeast, spawning a dozen tornadoes on April 5 and 6. Perhaps most significant, the tornado heavily damaged the Tupelo hospital. In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, with hundreds of injured people in need of care, makeshift hospitals were set up at the Lee County courthouse, the Tupelo Military Institute, a movie theater, and several churches.
There is an irony here, hospitals and their ED’s are the mainstay for disaster relief, crucial elements in the disaster response chain, but what happens when they are a victim of the same tragedy. Natural disasters are broadly classified into many areas, climate-related (hydrometeorologic) or geophysical, and include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and epidemics.
During the last decades, the incidence of natural disasters is growing, which is mainly caused by an increase of climate-related emergencies. Also, the scale of disasters has expanded owing to increased rates of urbanization, environmental degradation, and intensifying climate variables
Aside from all of the collateral effects of these natural disasters from loss of services, loss of technology, facility damage, and more, one must raise questions as to what other consequences might occur that take advantage of those tragedies such as price gauging, and similar occurrences. But does the audit incidence sky-rocket considering the destruction of medical records. Certainly this did not occur in 1936 as audits were not a major occurrence then, but certainly not absent in today’s world I imagine.
In conclusion, what are all of the over-reaching effects of natural disasters to our hospitals when hospitals are also vulnerable to tragedies?