Mass casualties would overwhelm burn treatment

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To prepare for disasters, healthcare providers should be comfortable managing burn victims until burn centers can free up resources to treat them, an article in January's Southern Medical Journal says.

Only about 1,895 burn beds, which are hospital beds designed to treat burn victims, exist in the United States. That number overstates their actual availability, too, because it counts unstaffed beds included in hospitals' licensed capacity.

And since burn centers operate near capacity in normal circumstances, an influx of patients amid a disaster could quickly overwhelm them.

That would leave burn victims temporarily in the care of nonspecialists. But a minority of clinicians in hospitals and emergency services feel comfortable with their ability to manage a patient with burns on more than 20 percent of his or her skin, according to a 2012 survey the article cites. A situation with many victims would strain those abilities even more.

A lesson the article draws from the military's experience with burn injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan is that clinicians should have burn-treatment supplies ready to take with them as they transport victims to burn centers.

The article also says disaster plans need to define two crucial concepts: the point at which a situation becomes a disaster, activating the plan, and the point where the situation exceeds the plan's resources. When that second point is reached, healthcare providers will face questions about where to take burn victims, how to transport them, and how to work with neighboring states.

Planners should also try to improve burn care at local level so that when disaster hits, the wait time to access it can be minimized, the article suggests.

For more:
- read the article, "Burn Disaster Preparedness and the Southern Region of the United States"

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