The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington sent tremors throughout the West Coast, mobilizing relief efforts by doctors and hospitals while disrupting operations at a number of healthcare facilities.
Within a day of the devastation, the Dallas-based American College of Emergency Physicians had received hundreds of phone calls from West Coast doctors eager to provide assistance.
"A lot of our docs are waving their hands frantically. They're anxious to help in any way possible," said Ray Williams, executive director of the ACEP's 2,000-member California chapter. Likewise, more than 1,000 physicians called the California Medical Association to sign up for the rescue effort.
Though many hospitals reached out to help in the aftermath of the attacks, few actually got the chance to pitch in.
The Washington State Hospital Association, for instance, offered to fly out personnel but was asked by New York officials not to continue calling because they were already overwhelmed by offers of support, said the association's spokeswoman Cassie Sauer.
Since then, the California Healthcare Association has sent memos to the state's hospitals urging them "to be prepared to assist those that are engaged in life-saving care to the victims," but it asked them to moderate their immediate efforts.
Meanwhile, West Coast hospitals busied themselves by beefing up security and conserving medical supplies that had dwindled in the face of grounded air shipments.
San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West put its 47 hospitals in Arizona, California and Nevada on "lock-down" status last week, requiring all patients and visitors to enter through a single door, sign in and have their bags checked. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente also required bag checks at its 29 hospitals.
The University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center and UCLA Hospital Systems are on "yellow alert," in case of terrorist acts in the Los Angeles area, said Michael Karpf, M.D., vice president of UCLA Hospital Systems and director of UCLA Medical Center.
At least one California hospital was partially evacuated because of a bomb threat. The 377-bed Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose cleared out a portion of its administrative and outpatient buildings on Tuesday after an anonymous caller, who took responsibility for the World Trade Center disaster, claimed to have hidden a bomb in a hospital call center. The evacuated employees were allowed back to work Wednesday morning after an extensive search.
To avoid its own shortage of blood and medical supplies, Phoenix-based Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center asked its doctors last week to postpone as many elective surgeries as possible.
Meanwhile, the roughly 200 members of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California agreed to share medical supplies, if necessary, and to create an information center to exchange news.
The tragedy "was a good wake-up call for us to set up new procedures," said Ron Smith, regional vice president of the council's San Francisco section.
Santa Clara Valley Medical was one of the first to appeal for help. With most of the country's burn-treatment supplies diverted to the East Coast, the hospital had to borrow materials from St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, some 350 miles away.
"Our burn unit is full, but we're finding ways to make do," said Santa Clara spokeswoman Joy Alexiou. "We're even making our own bandaging."
-With Vince Galloro