Hospital activity was ‘just a test’

Published 8:55 am Saturday, October 31, 2009

FRANKLIN—If you happened to see a huge tent being constructed and dismantled in the employee parking lot at Southampton Memorial Hospital Thursday, there’s no need to worry.

The hospital was conducting a training exercise for its mobile hospital unit. The mobile hospital unit is basically a tent that can be set up in case of an emergency when the hospital can’t handle the patient load or is damaged in a natural disaster.

Miles Carr, the hospital’s director of maintenance and safety, said the unit, which measures 18 feet by 25 feet fully assembled, can be used in “any type of major disaster,” and can be set up to hold between 2 and 50 patients. The unit was given to the hospital by the state and was purchased with Homeland Security funds.

The unit at SMH is one of 19 across Hampton Roads, Carr said. He said the hospitals all have a mutual agreement and the individual units can be connected to form a huge mobile hospital.

“We can equip it with heat, lights and air conditioning,” he said. The same types of tents are used for medical care in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hospital officials were aware of the fact that the exercise could raise fears about the current H1N1, or swine, influenza virus pandemic. Fears of creating panic led officials to conduct the exercise in the back of the hospital rather than the front.

“We certainly don’t want any panic,” said Anne Williams, the hospital’s director of marketing. She said the exercise was planned for the fall because the weather is “not too hot and not too cold.”

Employees from several of the hospital’s departments received training on how to assemble the mobile unit, Williams said it was to ensure that there would be enough properly trained people in case of an emergency.

“It’s a pretty neat device,” Carr said. “It’s just to facilitate safety in a disaster — if the hospital can’t handle it.”