Mobile units let ED reopen after flood

Vendor staff train providers on use of new equipment

When a flash flood hit Columbus, IN, in June, Columbus Regional Hospital had to be evacuated. But just two weeks later, the ED was able to reopen, thanks to a mobile unit called the Carolinas MED (Mobile Emergency Department)-1, which was first deployed in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The "unit" is actually two 53-foot tractor trailers. One is a support unit, which contains all the necessary supplies, including 72 hours worth of medications, general medical equipment, and its own fuel supply. The medical unit itself includes:

  • 1,000 square feet of workspace;
  • eight ED beds;
  • two OR beds;
  • four critical care beds;
  • an attached drop tent that can create space for another 250 beds in the event of mass casualties;
  • cardiac monitors;
  • point-of-care testing for labs;
  • portable, digital X-ray capabilities;
  • a portable ultrasound machine.

Thomas A. Sonderman, MD, an ED physician, vice president and chief medical officer at Columbus Regional Hospital, says, "I learned about this unit from an employee who stood up in the very first employee update session on June 13. I took out my smartphone, searched the Internet, and within minutes I was talking to the administrator who manages the deployment."

The unit was deployed on June 23 and remained on site until early July. The hospital held a press conference to let the community know about the unit. During the period the unit was open, the ED saw between 60 and 70 patients a day, or about two-thirds of its normal patient load. He describes the unit as "pretty slick" and said the clinical sophistication of the equipment was a significant advantage. "I'd give it a 10 out of 10," says Sonderman.

The deployment was made relatively simple because of the staff Sonderman had available, says Tom Blackwell, MD, medical director for the Center for Pre-Hospital Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, NC, and one of the two physicians who spearheaded the development of the mobile unit.

"The hospital CEO kept all his employees on the payroll, so the ED docs, nurses, X-ray techs, and pharmacists all worked in MED-1," he says. "We just provided oversight staff: two doctors, two nurses, and one paramedic."


For more information on using a mobile ED, contact:

  • Tom Blackwell, MD, Medical Director, Center for Pre-Hospital Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, NC. Phone: (704) 355-8660. E-mail:
  • Thomas A. Sonderman, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Columbus Regional Hospital, Columbus, IN. Phone: (812) 379-4441.

For more information about mobile and temporary emergency units, contact:

  • Doug Butzier, MD, Emergency Physician, Mercy Medical Center-Dubuque (IA). Phone: (563) 589-9666.
  • Carolinas MED-1, in care of The Center for Pre -Hospital Medicine, P.O. Box 32861, Charlotte, NC 28232-2861. Phone: (704) 355-8660, E-mail:
  • EMS Innovations, Pasadena, MD. Phone: (888) 236-1267. Web:
  • MACH-1 (Mobile Emergency Trauma Department), Hackensack (NJ) University Medical Center. Phone: (201) 996-2000. Web: