Is Myrtle Beach medically prepared in a mass casualty event?

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – The tragedy in Las Vegas is bringing up questions of safety and preparedness along the Grand Strand.

Grand Strand Regional Medical Center received trauma level 1 designation in May and has a plan to respond if a mass casualty situation happened in the Myrtle Beach area.

There are multiple level 2 and 3 trauma centers throughout the Grand Strand and Pee Dee regions, but Grand Strand Regional Medical is the only one that provides level 1 treatment.

What this means is the center can provide the highest level of comprehensive care for critically injured patients 24/7. A regular hospital does not keep a surgeon there all the time or even have someone able to do trauma surgery.

Level 1 centers must have qualified surgeons and an anesthesiologist immediately available, staffed operating rooms, a blood bank, and evidence of programs that review quality.

“I think from our standpoint, the first thing that affected me learning about this event was, ‘Are we ready for such an event for our community?’” questions Dr. Antonio Pepe.

Dr. Pepe is the Trauma Medical Director at Grand Strand and said the medical center would be ready to provide critical care if something like what happened in Las Vegas happened in Myrtle Beach.

“It is impossible to be 100 percent prepared,” Dr. Pepe admits. “And that’s why it’s important to be as prepared as possible.”

The ambulance entrance in front of the trauma center could transform to treat hundreds of patients in a mass casualty situation.

“This room just provides us with additional equipment if we needed to triage out here,” explains Alison Burns, referencing one of the supply closets located outside of the trauma center’s main doorway.

Burns is the medical center’s Health Trauma Director and showed News13 the center’s three trauma rooms, where patients with the most severe injuries would be taken.

“Stop the bleeding here, surgically intervene, and then quickly get to the O.R. or to CAT scan to quickly find whether we need to go to an operating room,” she elaborates.

Dr. Pepe said the main concern is not necessarily the type of injuries but the number of people injured. “That could potentially surge our hospital and we could become overwhelmed,” explained Pepe.

In that situation, the medical center’s emergency management coordinator said they would use the statewide mutual aid agreement.

“If one hospital would reach capacity, there are agreements in place that other facilities that are within this mutual aid agreement would take victims from the incident,” EMS Coordinator Matt Tumbleson explains.

Tumbleson also showed News13 how anyone can play a role in stopping blood flow from a wound by using a t-shirt or belt. “You’d wrap it around the extremity and then twist until the blood flow stops.”

The Grand Strand Regional Medical Center team says their hearts go out to Las Vegas, and that this kind of situation takes a toll on both victims and responders.

“It is that graphic, it is that hard to see, it is that ugly,” Burns said. “But it does clean up.”

Grand Strand Medical also holds mass casualty training exercises throughout the year, but Tumbleson said they don’t plan to change what they are already doing but rather will put more of an emphasis on the training’s importance.