After the horror came the healthcare heroes.
Last week's deadly terrorist attacks left the nation outraged and grief-stricken. But while millions of numbed Americans spent last Tuesday morning staring at the graphic television coverage, the dangerous and painstaking rescue effort was beginning to unfold.
Hospitals in lower Manhattan and suburban Washington braced for the arrival of those seriously injured or burned in the bombings. Emergency workers rushed to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Other hospitals, clinics and blood banks prepared to respond on an as-needed basis.
It is with the deepest of gratitude that we salute our colleagues in healthcare who rallied to treat the victims. Special people are attracted to medicine, patient care and healthcare management. Many of them are driven by a need to serve society and achieve extraordinary results. Under normal circumstances, the healthcare pressure cooker is steaming with stress. In times of crisis, the situation can race out of control.
The individual accomplishments of these dedicated medical professionals will never be forgotten. Many of these healthcare heroes saved lives, while some risked their own. Most were volunteers. All worked long, tedious hours.
The much-maligned "healthcare system" also deserves credit for actually operating systematically following last week's atrocities. Critics contend that healthcare in America is fragmented, disorganized and unresponsive to community needs. But in the aftermath of the deadly attacks, the "system" responded admirably.
The Greater New York Hospital Association served as an information clearinghouse for local hospitals. The Healthcare Association of New York State helped coordinate volunteer efforts. The American Hospital Association did a splendid job of keeping its nationwide membership briefed on disaster-recovery developments. Hospitals across the nation did a workmanlike job collecting blood from an unprecedented flood of donors.
Most impressive was the first-ever mobilization of the federal government's 80 special disaster teams, made up of 7,000 private-sector medical personnel. Burn and surgery units, mortuary teams and forensic specialists prepared to treat the injured, identify the victims and bury the dead. At press time, it appeared there were more than enough hospital beds, caregivers and medical supplies to handle the demand.
America's deadly bout with terrorism will forever alter the way we live. For the healthcare system, it provides an even louder call to develop disaster plans and coordinate defined roles for participating providers.
The system may have worked in New York and Washington, but what if 10 times as many people need emergency treatment?