A Miami hospital is doing more than its part for the U.S. war effort in Iraq. Since October 2001-just weeks after 9-11-Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center has served as the principal training ground to prepare U.S. Army surgeons, nurses and paramedics for the toughest surgical cases on the battlefield.
The hospital's highly regarded trauma unit, selected from a list of about 75 surveyed by top Army brass for the elite role, has helped upgrade the trauma skills of about 380 healthcare personnel now serving in forward surgical teams-the successors to the fabled mobile army surgical hospitals, or MASH units, of the Korean War.
"By getting these Army physicians and nurses ready for care, we're serving our soldiers," says Col. Thomas Knuth, a physician who is the director of the Army trauma training program at 1,789-bed Jackson Memorial. "That's the bottom line. The doctors and nurses who have gone through this program say they cannot imagine going (to Iraq) without coming here first."
The forward surgical teams, which boast the kind of mobility never available to MASH units, usually include four surgeons, five nurses and 10 paramedics or operating room technicians, Knuth says. The value of such mobility, he says, was recognized during the first Gulf War. "(MASH units) were found to be too heavy, too bulky in Desert Storm," he explains.
Army healthcare personnel are being deployed to Iraq after spending about one month in training with board-certified trauma surgeons from the University of Miami School of Medicine. The urgency of recent events forced the Army to shorten the rotations to 10 days. It is expected that more surgical teams trained at Jackson will be deployed to Iraq and other hot spots, providing the same kind of world-class care available here at top teaching hospitals like Jackson, officials say.
"In terms of the university and Jackson Memorial, it's an honor to be the sole Army training site for all their surgical teams," says Stephen Cohn, chief of the trauma and surgical critical-care division at the medical school.
While the Army has teamed with Jackson for its intense, high-level training, the U.S. Air Force began a similar program in January at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the 611-bed University of Maryland Medical Center, and the U.S. Navy is working with 732-bed Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, officials at Jackson Memorial say.
Home front fears
Hospitals in at least two states were put on alert and the FBI was called to investigate after some National Guardsmen made what turned out to be a bathroom break at an Arkansas hospital and a similarly mundane event elsewhere in the state. The incidents happened just as the U.S. was launching its invasion of Iraq.
Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., reported March 19 that three people dressed in military uniforms appeared at the facility. When a hospital employee asked why they were there, one of them reportedly quipped, "We're here to protect the hospital."
Hospital spokeswoman Suzanne Passmore says the visitors had left by the time hospital officials were notified, so they could not be questioned further. The hospital alerted a state official with HHS' National Disaster Medical System, who apparently contacted local military installations, she says. The next day, FBI agents showed up to review hospital surveillance tapes and interview employees.
Meanwhile, Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, Ark., reported a similar incident in which people dressed in military uniforms were seen rolling a cart containing one or more orange canisters down a hallway. The incidents prompted both the Arkansas and Oklahoma hospital associations to alert their members to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
A two-day FBI investigation determined that some members of the Arkansas Air National Guard had decided to make a "pit stop" at Southwest Regional while traveling across the state. In Pine Bluff, the suspicious visitors turned out to be personnel from a local military arsenal who were picking up pharmaceuticals.
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Meanwhile, terrorism fears surfaced in Pennsylvania hospitals last month after a not-so-funny international telephone scam was uncovered.
At least 18 hospitals throughout the state reported that they received calls from people claiming to be doctors or telephone repair people and asking for an outside line. Once they gained access, the imposters tried to call Pakistan or Afghanistan. The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania alerted all hospitals in the state as well as the FBI after hearing about it initially from three hospitals, says Roger Baumgarten, an association spokesman. Apparently, the culprits were successful at a few hospitals where there was an inexperienced operator or a shift change, he says.
Similar scams at a smaller number of hospitals occurred about four weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Baumgarten recalls. At that time the callers were trying to gain connections to Yemen and Sri Lanka. The FBI was alerted but Baumgarten says he never heard any more about it.
"Whether it is something serious or not, I don't think there is enough to go on, but given the destination of the calls and the heightened security, we thought it was prudent to bring it to the FBI's attention," Baumgarten says. "It could turn out to be another harmless scam to get free phone calls. If it turns out to be nothing, that will be great."