AMR coordination keeps sick & elderly safe in natural disasters

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When a natural disaster threatens, the job of moving the sick and bedridden to safety is coordinated right here South Mississippi. In 2005, American Medical Response was awarded a FEMA contract to handle hospital and nursing home evacuations around the country.

After Hurricane Katrina's devastation, American Medical Response officials said FEMA took notice of how differently patients at hospitals and nursing homes faired in South Mississippi, versus those Louisiana.

"AMR called in hundreds of ambulances from some of our sister companies in the Southeast. They came here and we evacuated all the hospitals and nursing homes that were in harm's way," said Steve Delahousey of AMR. "As a result, no one died as a result of the flooding or the damage that was done to those healthcare facilities. As you know, not so in New Orleans."

Now AMR handles all FEMA disaster medical facility evacuations. The resources include up to 1,200 ground ambulances and up to 100 air ambulances using jets and helicopters. The largest response was Hurricanes Gustav and the latest was Hurricane Sandy.

Delahousey said, "That was the longest EMS disaster deployment in history. We stayed there for 36 days."

"If you recall the pictures on TV, in the middle of the night Bellevue Medical Center being evacuated. NYU Medical Center. That was us," Delahousey said. "AMR and our subcontractors. We evacuated those hospitals when the waters started rising."

AMR officials said people with medical conditions that require ambulance transport in case of evacuation should contact their office.

"We know how many people there are in the hospitals here on the Coast and the nursing homes here on the coast and a lot of them can live with their family members," Delahousey said. "But what we don't know is how many special needs population there is in the community. There are family members that are taking care of their loved ones with feeding tubes, oxygen and biomedical equipment at home."

In South Mississippi, AMR also uses its ambulances evacuate people with medical needs from homes in flood prone areas. But officials wanted to remind those people that they must plan ahead.

Butch Oberhoff of AMR said, "Make sure that you've planned to have enough medication. If you have any special medical equipment that you need, like oxygen. Make all those arrangements far in advance so it's not a scramble at the last minute to get where you need to go."

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