Local hospitals prepare for influx of people during eclipse
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first in an ongoing series about preparations for the full solar eclipse on Aug. 21 in eastern Idaho.
IDAHO FALLS — When it comes to treating the injured or the sick, preparedness is everything.
Hospitals in eastern Idaho already have plans in place for possible disaster scenarios that could happen any time of year, but with the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, hospitals have another big scenario to consider: more people — a lot more.
Some estimate the population of the region could double, with numbers possibly reaching about 500,000 in eastern Idaho. With only a finite number of hospital beds and hospital staff in a service area used for caring for half that many, local hospitals have been in prep mode for some time.
“We have been preparing for months both internally as well as with county, law enforcement, hospitals, municipalities and law enforcement. We are all over this,” said Coleen Niemann, director of marketing at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
There are emergency rooms located in Driggs, Jackson, Rexburg, Idaho Falls, and Blackfoot. But EIRMC in Idaho Falls is the only regional trauma center meaning that those with more serious injuries and illnesses are taken there.
Worst case scenario, sometime during the eclipse a natural disaster happens. Another possibility is a large-scale traffic accident with multiple injuries. Definitely likely are the normal camping accidents and health issues that happen when there are half a million people living daily life and visitors vacationing.
Douglas H. McBride, Director Public Relations & Marketing of Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg, said they plan to set up an outdoor triage tent attached to their ER in case of a large volume of patients. “This will enable us to treat critical cases first,” he said.
Niemann said that EIRMC will have extra staff on-call in case there is a disaster or a large influx of people. Alternate landing sites have also been determined for medical transport via air for EIRMC and MMH.
Having enough medical supplies is another consideration. Food, water, and other medical supplies are crucial, and if there is a disaster or accident then access could be hampered. So EIRMC and MMH are storing extra supplies and assessing other equipment and pharmaceuticals to make sure they have all their bases covered.
“We are keeping the access lines open in case we do need more, which is a benefit of being part of the largest national healthcare company,” Niemann said. “We can get resources from sister hospitals in Utah and other states in a pinch.”
Local officials are anticipating possible cell tower overloads and even some internet disturbances, so local hospitals are preparing for the possibility those may not be available. So hospitals have determined alternate ways to communicate with other hospitals as well as the general public of residents and visitors.
“We have internal communication procedures with all our employees through various channels; email, texting, and two-way radios. As far as other communication methods, we also have HAM radio operators for external communication,” said McBride.
The best thing local residents can do is to be prepared themselves. What can residents do? Officials believe the influx of people will likely start Friday, Aug. 18 and continue until the eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21 and the day after, so get things situated before then.
“Get your groceries, prescriptions, car tank filled before the influx of people arrive,” Niemann said. “Withdraw some cash in case the Internet goes down and cards aren’t accepted. Avoid crowded areas if you can.”
She urges residents and visitors to sign up for Bonneville County’s CodeRED system, a text alert the Sheriff’s Office uses to inform residents about emergencies and missing persons.
Residents should also sign up to the NotifyMe texting and email service from the city of Idaho Falls. It is used to deliver all types of information and press releases from city officials.
Both systems could be used during the eclipse.
For more information about eclipse-related information specific to Eastern Idaho, visit eastidahoeclipse.com.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article implied that Bonneville County CodeRED system was operated by the city of Idaho Falls. It is actually operated by Bonneville County. EastIdahoNews.com apologizes for the error.