La Crosse hospitals prepared for mass casualty situation

Gundersen carries second-highest trauma designation, Mayo third-highest

The hospital in Orlando which treated victims following Sunday’s mass shooting is considered a “Level I” trauma center, meaning they’re trained to handle the most critical of emergency situations.

Both hospitals in La Crosse say they also train for mass casualty scenarios.

Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare is designated as a “Level III” trauma center by the state of Wisconsin, while Gundersen Health System carries a “Level II” trauma center designation from both the state and the American College of Surgeons.

The levels are determined by the types of care hospitals have the resources to provide. Both hospitals say they have the ability to get help from other hospitals in the area — including each other — if needed.

“We are capable of taking care of almost all patients to a point at Level III,” said Rick Thiesse of Mayo Clinic Health System. “If they’re more critical, then we forward them to other locations that can take care of those patients at that point.”

In the case of Gundersen, if someone needed “Level I” care to treat a severe burn, they could transport the patient to hospitals in Madison, the Twin Cities, or Iowa City. Mayo could send patients requiring “Level I” care to its Rochester facilities.

Gundersen Emergency Manager Tom Wright says as a Level II trauma center, if they were overwhelmed with a flood of patients, they could also send those with lesser injuries to other hospitals or clinics.

“We would bring those numbers into the ER and make a triage decision,” said Wright. “If it were 50 patients at once, we would have to look at other area hospitals for their ability to manage maybe some that aren’t the Level I’s, Level II traumas, but some of the lesser-hurt individuals.”

Both local hospitals say the number of patients they could handle at once depends on the situation and how many rooms they have available on any given day, and they have different sets of plans based on how many people need help.

“We have communication plans in place that we can mobilize anywhere from a first page of 100 physicians, to a second page of 450 physicians when physician care needs to be ramped up,” said Wright.

Wright says the level of response depends on what those on the scene communicate back to the hospital.

“In Orlando, hospitals knew they knew they could be dealing with a hundred people, which became a reality very quickly. For us, that would be a full-needs response that we would alert all staff for.”

Thiesse says practice is also key when it comes to responding to a crisis.

“It’s so important to drill and prepare for these types of things, so we know in case that occurs, what rooms can we turn into patient care rooms or what’s the number of staff that we need to call in to prepare for this type of situation,” said Thiesse.

Both Mayo and Gundersen frequently practice a wide variety of scenarios.

“Whether it was a mass shooting, whether it was an explosion, a train derailment, we want to say that we’re prepared for any mass casualty,” said Wright.

Several agencies from the La Crosse area, including the two hospitals, are teaming up to practice their life-saving skills in a crisis drill Tuesday morning. The exercise was scheduled before this weekend’s shooting took place. 

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