Pittsburgh-area physicians representing several large hospitals and health systems are teaming up with an unusual new partner in their efforts to combat terrorism in the region: the FBI. The bureau's Pittsburgh office, which has jurisdiction over 25 counties and the entire state of West Virginia, has launched a special information-sharing program with roughly a dozen doctors who could turn out to be essential in warding off a terrorist attack or lessening its severity.
The collaborative initiative, called the Strategic Medical Intelligence Unit, was launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, and will attempt to foresee potential attacks before they occur so authorities can intercept unlawful activity. "Say a guy comes into the emergency room with his finger blown off by an explosive, but says he caught it in the garbage disposal," FBI Special Agent Phil Smith says. "The doctors know the patient's injury isn't consistent with what he's saying and that's suspicious. They would notify us and we may choose to investigate or run a background check on that individual."
The program was largely the creation of physician Michael Allswede, a medical toxicologist and chief of the special emergency response section at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's department of emergency medicine.
"We're seeking funding to create an ability to take these lessons learned and put them out nationwide," says Allswede, who was formerly part of the Pittsburgh FBI's Specialized Medical Advanced Response Team, or SMART, the bureau's medical support component.
He says each of the special unit's doctors was selected because of his or her terrorism expertise and was further subject to FBI background checks and special security clearance. Participating area physicians include those at UPMC, West Penn-Allegheny Hospital System, Carnegie Mellon University and Hahnemann University Hospital, as well as doctors from West Virginia University and Marshall University.
While the program is only up and running at the FBI's Pittsburgh office, Allswede says leading FBI officials are aware of the initiative, which could be replicated in the future in partnership with physicians and providers nationwide.
"We're living in an age where combining resources and building relationships is what's going to help us do a better job," says Smith, who is also director of the division of weapons of mass destruction at the FBI's Pittsburgh office. "We're learning more about what trauma doctors do and their capabilities and they're learning what we do, and we're both able to respond more effectively."
The final lingual frontier
On second thought, maybe there are language barriers that can't be crossed.
The Multnomah County, Ore., department of human services has decided to limit its translation services to Earth-speak. In response to recent media attention, the county has pulled Klingon from the list of 50-plus languages for which it provides translation services.
"It was a mistake and a result of an overzealous attempt to ensure that our safety net systems can respond to all customers and clients," Diane Linn, Multnomah County chairwoman, said in a written statement. The county deals with severe mental health issues such as schizophrenia and delusions, and as a public institution, is required to provide translators to patients who need them. "It is our legal responsibility to respond with all resources and means necessary to communicate with our clients."
The Klingon language was created by a trained linguist for characters on the television series "Star Trek" and has been documented in the Klingon Dictionary, according to the Klingon Language Institute.
The sky's the limit
Risk-taking in the rehabilitation industry has seemed to center all too much recently on the alleged accounting fraud at HealthSouth Corp. and some of its former executives who have pleaded guilty to cooking the books at the troubled company. A far more positive view of risk-taking was on display last week when several disabled patients from Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation were gingerly guided through a skydiving experience at Perris (Calif.) Valley Skydiving, the largest skydiving center in North America.
The supervised jump with professionals trained in tandem jumping is one of several activities offered through the Pomona, Calif.-based rehabilitation network's renowned Outdoor Adventures program, which aims to empower disabled patients physically and emotionally. The program is underwritten by the Casa Colina Foundation for roughly $450,000 annually, and exposes nearly 1,200 patients each year to high adrenaline experiences such as scuba diving, skiing, rock climbing and white-water rafting, as well as less physically intense activities such as camping and hiking.
"The skydiving trip is not for the weak of heart but it demonstrates where rehabilitation can go and what individuals receiving rehabilitation can accomplish," says Felice Loverso, president and CEO of Casa Colina Centers. "These people are learning to risk again, and the individuals who take our dog sled trip through Canada for five days-I don't think they're nervous about going into the supermarket anymore."
Casa Colina already is working with Denver-based Craig Rehabilitation Hospital to collaborate on trips in Colorado.