Could San Francsico handle a mass casualty incident?

April 22, 2013 9:05:52 PM PDT
In the space of 11 seconds, more than 200 people were injured in the Boston bombings one week ago. Forty-eight people are still in the hospital; two remain in critical condition, five are listed as serious. At least 14 people lost all or part of a limb; three lost more than one. While Boston has six Level One trauma centers, San Francisco only has one. So when we ask the inevitable question: "Could it happen here?" we also have to ask, "Are we prepared for it to happen here?"

After San Francisco, the next closest trauma centers are at Stanford, Highland Hospital and John Muir Medical Center. A mass casualty incident would certainly tax the system in any city and San Francisco is no different. But at San Francisco General Hospital, those in charge of dealing with any such emergency say they can handle it, even if the numbers don't seem to back that up.

The Boston victims benefited from medical personnel already on scene for the marathon and a high concentration of hospitals with Level One trauma centers where specialists and equipment are available all day every day.

"That would be surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiology; that full compliment of care is here at all times," San Francisco General Hospital spokesperson Rachael Kagan said.

Current numbers show about 200 patients went to five such trauma centers.

The Level One trauma center at San Francisco General Hospital serves the entire county and the northern part of San Mateo County. Right now its emergency room has 27 beds. In the new hospital, which should be done in 2015, it will be bigger.

"In the new hospital, the emergency room will nearly triple in size; we currently have 27 beds in our emergency room, we will have 60 in the new hospital and we will have the ability to double that to surge up to 120 in a mass casualty incident," Kagan said.

San Francisco General Hospital and the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management say not all victims would need a trauma center, so they're confident San Francisco could handle a mass casualty incident, though the numbers seem to tell a different story.

"With that many patients we would be looking to our neighbors around the Bay Area, to either fly them or drive them to make sure the right patients get to the right care," San Francisco Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Rob Dudgeon said.

"Probably if there were a huge incident in the city today, the ambulance folks would be triaging in the field so the most injured folks would still come here but all the other hospitals in the city would also join right in and we would all work together," Kagan said.

The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management says even though the hospitals don't have helicopter landing pads, there are designated landing zones around the city and county where air ambulances could land to get patients into or out of the city.