Local hospitals don't expect to treat wounded soldiers within the next 24 hours but are ready for a surge in casualties should ground troops join the fighting in the Middle East.
"That's when we would anticipate an escalation in the casualty count," said Warren Longley, spokesman for the Veterans Administration Medical Center.But VA officials say those treated in Utah will not be the most serious trauma cases.
"By the time we see a patient, it's conceivable we will be the fifth treatment center that sees him. Our anticipation is that any patient we receive will be stable and not in any immediate danger," said Ted Baxter, director of planning and development at the VA Medical Center. "We are hopeful that the serious trauma cases will never reach us. We can handle trauma patients if we have to, but we don't expect them. We are likely to receive the rehabilitation-type patients."Although only one American casualty has been reported in the war zone, Utah blood banks have been bombarded with donors.
"Our donors rooms are full and our phones are ringing off the hook. But we haven't had any requests to send blood (to the gulf)," said Dr. Myron Laub, medical director of IHC Blood Services. "There hasn't been any reason. We anticipate if the need arises we will be contacted, and we will be happy to respond."
Laub is not concerned about a shortage of blood for patients at home - even if the war escalates and more Utah blood is shipped abroad.
Baxter said Utah servicemen and servicewomen will come home to be hospitalized only after being treated at several other facilities - first in MASH units in the combat zone. Once stabilized, they'll be moved to an Army general hospital, typically located outside the line of conflict, in Saudi Arabia or in Europe.
From Europe, they'll be flown to east coast hospitals. And then home.
"It's the policy of the national disaster medical system, the VA and the Department of Defense to place a patient as close to his home of record for recuperation," Longley said. "As quickly as a Utahn could make the trip, that individual would be routed into the state to receive care."
Wounded soldiers from southeastern Idaho, western Wyoming and eastern Nevada will also be flown to Salt Lake for treatment since the local VA Medical Center services that region.
Although thousands of miles from the Gulf, Utah's medical community for months has been gearing up to treat war victims.
"A variety of different planning sessions have been going on among the VA medical staff, the University of Utah and LDS Hospitals to work out specific procedures in case a plane carrying casualties touches down in Utah," Longley said.
The wounded will be met by volunteer members of the area's Disaster Medical Assistance Team - dozens of Utah physicians, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel - staffing a triage center at the Air National Guard Fire Station east of the Salt Lake International Airport.
If it is activated, wounded will be received, prioritized and transported to area hospitals.
For several weeks, the VA Medical Center's bed status has been reported on a daily basis to the VA coordinating unit in West Virginia. There, through electronic communication, statistics on bed availability throughout the VA's 172-hospital chain is maintained.
That system is linked with that of the DOD.
Longley said DOD hospitals will treat as many casualties as possible before VA hospitals, designated as primary receiving centers, will be activated as a backup.
The Salt Lake VA Medical Center is among 72 hospitals designated to receive war casualties. Should that hospital be overloaded with casualties, the military would then activate community hospitals and the D-MAT team, both part of the National Disaster Medical System.
NDMS is designed to provide medical aid in the form of response units, a medical evacuation system and a network of hospitals that have agreed to accept patients in the event of a mass casualty emergency.
Longley said the network is mandated by the Health Resources Sharing and Emergency Operations Act of 1982 in the event of a national emergency. The Gulf war would be its first test.
Thirteen Utah hospitals, from Orem Community to McKay-Dee in Ogden, have committed 1,500 beds for casualties, according to the Utah Department of Health's bureau of emergency medical services.
"This is truly a cooperative effort. Everyone from the State Medical Examiner's office to the office of Comprehensive Emergency Management is involved," a spokesperson said.
Baxter emphasized that war wounded arriving in Utah will likely be recovering from injuries, or in need of extensive care or rehabilitation.
"The level of acuity is expected to be manageable. We don't anticipate getting serious burn patients here because time is of the essence; they will likely to handled in Europe or on the East coast," Baxter said. "We can handle trauma patients if we have to, but we don't expect them."
LDS and U. Hospitals, both tertiary-care facilities, will provide level 1 trauma care and will likely be the first back-ups for the VA Medical Center, Longley said.