The director of Mass General's Center for Disaster Medicine highlights some of the programs, training and support that prepared its professionals to respond to Hurricane Matthew.

The past week has been extremely difficult for the millions of people who were caught in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Record flooding, destruction of property and loss of life has been ongoing since the storm approached the United States, especially in the Carolinas. Outside of the United States, the storm has left more than 1.3 million people in need of assistance in all forms in the Caribbean, and was especially devastating for many parts of Haiti. Deaths on that island nation could tragically climb to more than 1,000, with many more left without the basic needs of shelter, food, water and care for injuries and illnesses.

Professionals from Mass General's Center for Disaster Medicine help train hospitals for the dangerous job of evacuating after a disaster.
Professionals from Mass General’s Center for Disaster Medicine help train hospitals for the dangerous job of evacuating after a disaster.

Five Mass General staffers are part of relief efforts in Haiti and ten more have been dispatched to areas of need in this country.

The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Disaster Medicine (MGH CDM) oversees all preparedness and emergency management efforts at Mass General. It helps Mass General and other hospitals and healthcare partners anticipate, plan and train for, practice and respond to, and recover and learn from disaster events such as Hurricane Matthew.

Responders with Experience

The MGH CDM is comprised of a team of physicians, nurses and administrators with decades of expertise in healthcare emergency management, emergency medical and surgical care and security. They are also experienced with hazardous materials, biothreats, and health system operations.

For the hospital and our community, the Center works to continually improve and enhance the hospital’s readiness for disasters and emergency situations of all types. It does this through effective training and exercise efforts, critical review of internal and external events, and the ongoing development of innovative new research and response programs.

As an example of research and innovation directly relevant to Hurricane Matthew, MGH CDM has created a detailed Hospital Evacuation Toolkit to remedy lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy and improve hospitals’ readiness for one of the most dangerous activities that they can undertake – evacuating their facility. MGH CDM toolkits such as the Hospital Evacuation Toolkit, and others, have been adapted for broader distribution in partnership with the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. They have been used around the country, including in North Carolina, to help enhance hospitals’ resilience.

In addition to such planning and innovation efforts, several MGH CDM staff have been deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew as members of a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team

Hurricane Matthew Deployment

In addition to such planning and innovation efforts, several MGH CDM staff have been deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew as members of a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). Such teams support local hospitals and other healthcare needs that may be caused by the storm. Such deployments allow MGH CDM staff to be able to assist those in need, and also allow for first-hand observations of disaster events and identification of how future responses may be improved. As an example, MGH CDM staff are already working with public health leaders in Massachusetts to see if a state model for local disaster medical teams, such as they have observed in North Carolina, could be successfully adapted for Massachusetts.

Because of the generous support of donors, and especially with the very generous support of the John Hancock MGH Boston Marathon Team, the MGH CDM is able to continue its mission of research, planning and innovative activities before disaster strikes, and to respond when called to protect our hospital, and our community.

For the 2017 Boston Marathon, John Hancock will once again provide Mass General’s Emergency Response team, Ready When Seconds Count, with 40 spots for runners.  Over the past three years, the team has raised more than $1 million. 

Donations help to elicit the greatest potential from the center’s superb team and fuel the programs that will result in a safer and more prepared environment for patients and staff.

To learn more about how to support the MGH CDM efforts, please contact us.

Paul Biddinger, MD

Paul Biddinger, MD is the director of the Center for Disaster Medicine at Mass General. He is also vice chairman for Emergency Preparedness in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Mass General and the Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness at Mass General and Partners HealthCare.