MORONGO BASIN — As the United States comes out of a deadly summer, when 126 people were killed in 26 mass shootings, local hospital leaders say they continue to train and build up supplies to be ready for any incident that creates numerous casualties.
“We think of ourselves as being in a constant state of readiness,” said Gael Whetstone, coordinator for trauma injury prevention at Hi-Desert Medical Center and Desert Regional in Palm Springs.
Because it is the desert region’s trauma center, Desert Regional is required to be ready to care for patients suffering from serious injuries.
“We never know from moment to moment when our phone rings what is going to come through on the other end,” Whetstone said.
“It could be a car crash with multiple injuries, or it could be something like the bus crash two years ago with 32 victims.”
That 2016 crash on Interstate 10 killed 13 people and injured 31 others. Desert Regional initially took in 13 patients. Whetstone has been in the midst of trauma responses like this and said it’s vital that everyone is trained on what to do.
“It’s sort of a ballet of chaos,” she said.
Training and setting out roles ahead of time is vital, both Desert Regional and Hi-Desert Medical Center representatives said.
“We do some joint emergency preparedness work with the Naval hospital,” said David Cooke, chief nursing and operations officer at HDMC. “We are communicating more frequently and starting to be involved in each other’s drills.”
The HDMC staff also keeps touch with its sister Tenet-run facilities, Desert Regional Medical Center and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.
With them and the Naval hospital, he said, “We work together every day so that collaboration works very smoothly when we have an influx of patients that need a higher level of care.”
If a mass-casualty incident happens, patients will be sorted among hospitals according to the severity of their injuries.
“They’ll start polling how many patients each hospital can take. Because we’re a trauma center, we would always offer to take the most critical,” Whetstone said.
“The less injured patient would then go to Hi-Desert. Once they arrive there, they would be evaluated and if it turned out they needed a higher level of care, they would then be transferred elsewhere.”
Both hospitals hold two to three mass-casualty drills several times a year where they act out this coordination.
“We do assessments on what is our highest risk for a natural disaster or a man-made event, whatever the situation may be that would result in a lot of people coming to the hospital,” Cooke said.
“We plan those drills and when we come together and enact the drill, we set up all our emergency equipment to make sure it’s functional and people know how to use it and then we mock what it would be like if a large number of people came to the hospital needing treatment.”
The local hospitals also use communications services from a company called Everbridge, which sends mass calls, texts and emails. The hospitals will use them to notify medical staff when there is an emergency and they need all hands on deck.
“Above and beyond drills are this mindset that we instill in the staff of this constant state of readiness,” Whetstone said. Another important component of that readiness rests with the residents of each community.
Whetstone teaches people how to assess and treat bleeding with her “Stop the Bleed” workshop, which she offers to groups in the Morongo Basin and Coachella Valley.
“The No. 1 cause of death in trauma is hemorrhage so we are working very hard to get this program out to the public,” she said.
Whetstone firmly believes it’s important for everyone to know what they’ll do if something — collision, shooting or natural disaster — creates mass numbers of people who need help.
“You don’t know from day to day anymore,” she said. “We need to make sure everyone is trained to do what they are supposed to do.”