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First Responders Fear Loss of Local Healthcare Disaster Preparedness if Federal Program is Eliminated

First Responders Fear Loss of Local Healthcare Disaster Preparedness if Federal Program is Eliminated


The nation’s 124 Metropolitan Medical Response Systems (MMRS) believe local medical responders’ ability to deal with mass casualty events will degrade in the face of pending federal budget cuts. In a recent national survey, an overwhelming majority of MMRS jurisdictions reported they had increased their capacity to care for their citizen’s emergency healthcare needs during disasters, including terrorism events.

Of all the lessons learned about how to respond to man-made and natural disasters, one of the most important is that medical treatment of mass casualty victims must be addressed quickly and efficiently – prior to the arrival of federal resources. However, preliminary Congressional actions for Fiscal Year 2012 have put in jeopardy a program that allows local jurisdictions the ability to take care of victims in the critical first 24-48 hours after a disaster.

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in 1995, Congress created the Metropolitan Medical Response System to address the lack of coordinated local medical help during disasters when significant numbers of victims were involved. MMRS is a federal program that gives local jurisdictions the ability to plan for and respond to the medical side of man-made and natural disasters – specifically assisting the victims – prior to federal assets arriving on scene.

Local first responders and emergency managers say that without MMRS there could be many more fatalities, untreated injuries and a possible shut-down of EMS and hospital functions during disaster situations. There are no other programs – from any federal agency – that are specifically designed and equipped to manage mass casualties in any hazardous situation.

Congressional appropriators have recommended that MMRS be eliminated as a stand-alone federal program despite numerous examples of the successful utilization of the program during recent national disasters. Both the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s Department of Homeland Security Authorization bills include language to continue the MMRS program.

“All disasters are local. However, it can take days for federal assets to arrive and those first hours are critical for ensuring that victims are treated and that the hospital and emergency services agencies aren't overwhelmed.' says Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), a long-time supporter and Congressional champion of the MMRS program. “MMRS is the only program out there to fill this gap and has proven for 15 years that it can do the job in an incredibly cost-effective manner. MMRS is the program to save, not to slash.”

MMRS is a small program for the value the country receives. 124 jurisdictions in 43 states receive MMRS grants, and through voluntary grantee initiative the program now covers approximately 75% of the country’s population – all for a total of $30 million a year. The MMRS systems provide not only equipment to first responders, but also provides for an ongoing capability comprised of planning, focused medical coordination, pharmaceutical caches for bio-terrorism events and perhaps most importantly, well trained local personnel.

“Congress is in the unenviable position of trying to manage the federal budget and in doing so they are looking to eliminate programs in order to streamline government. Unfortunately, MMRS is caught in the larger discussion about FEMA grant programs and may be eliminated because of issues unrelated to its value or effectiveness” says Jim Trimberger, Director Environmental Health & Safety for Oklahoma’s INTEGRIS Health System. “I have personally witnessed what medical coordination was like during the Murrah building bombing before we had MMRS and what it is like now. The difference is significant. Though our hospitals are not grantees of MMRS funds, it is because of the MMRS program that we work closely with other agencies to assure better coordination of mass casualties during a disaster.”

The Hampton Roads Metropolitan Medical Response System (HRMMRS) was developed under the direction of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) in 1999 and covers all 16 jurisdictions of the HRPDC. The HRMMRS supports, equips and trains a 39-member (207 member call group) Hampton Roads Metropolitan Medical Strike Team; maintains a pharmaceutical cache of nerve antidotes and antibiotics; purchased personnel protective, disaster response, mass transport, detection, decontamination and sheltering equipment for public safety agencies, hospitals, and public health and medical examiner districts; provides funding assistance to the 7 Medical Reserve Corps programs; and coordinates training and exercises in mass casualty incident and disaster response.

About Peninsulas EMS Council, Inc.
Peninsulas EMS Council, Inc. is a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization and is authorized by state statute. By statute, it is an integral part of Virginia's comprehensive EMS system. It serves to assess, identify, coordinate, plan, and implement efficient and effective regional EMS delivery systems in partnership with the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services and State EMS Advisory Board. In essence, the council integrates and coordinates resources to ensure rapid response and expert patient care, as well as coordination between more than 50 local EMS agencies and 7 hospitals.