Craig Aldrich: Florida needs to be prepared for the worst

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.

Last week, America experienced two heartbreaking and terrible tragedies –- the Boston Marathon bombing and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas –- both of which killed and injured many innocent Americans. Unfortunately, a week like that reminds us that we, as Americans, need to and should be prepared for mass casualty incidents. While America may never fully recover from the tragedy in Boston, the events that unfolded after the bombings showcased the extraordinary heroism of citizens, emergency responders, and the surgeons at local trauma centers.

Boston, which has a population of 625,000, has seven trauma centers, which have the capacity and training that is needed for an event with mass casualties, such as the heart-wrenching tragedy that occurred last week. Over 170 individuals, many with life-threatening, severe injuries, were brought to five of the seven trauma centers in Boston. These trauma centers, with their state-of-the-art technology and trained surgeons and staff, were able to save the lives of all but three of the injured. The surgeons and staff didn’t just perform miracles; they are specifically trained and have the proper equipment to deal with unpredictable and terrible events that inflict tremendous casualties. And it wasn’t just the trauma centers and their staff -– it was the heroic efforts of volunteers, other marathon watchers, and on-the-scene nurses, doctors, and first responders that worked together as a community.

Another tragedy occurred last week in West, Texas, when a fertilizer plant exploded killing 14 and injuring hundreds more. The critically injured victims were taken to a local trauma center. In both Boston and Texas, trauma centers help save lives.

With these horrible incidents in the backdrop, there has been a debate in Tallahassee focused on the viability of Florida’s trauma system. What is clear from Boston and West, Texas, is that Florida should not wait for a similar incident to happen, but must prepare for these unforeseeable incidents. What we should be asking, is whether the current trauma system network stands prepared for tragedies such as the ones we have seen in the past week. I am of the opinion that there is room for improvement in Florida.

For example, that Clay County where I serve as chief of staff for the Sheriff’s Office has no trauma center. This lack of a trauma center affects the lives and safety of Clay County’s nearly 195,000 citizens and the ability of our officers and first responders to do their jobs. The more time emergency personnel have to use up transporting trauma victims to a trauma center in a different county, the less time they have to respond to emergencies within our own county.

Our department responds to over 300,000 calls each year ranging from domestic disputes to armed robbery and other violent crimes. Not only does a lack of access to a trauma center endanger our citizens, it endangers any officer who could be shot or otherwise violently injured in the line of duty. As someone responsible for keeping our citizens and officers safe, this greatly troubles me.

Fortunately, Senate Bill 966, which passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee, is moving Florida one step closer to being prepared for untold tragedies with traumatic injuries. As this bill moves forward to the Senate and House floor, I encourage both chambers to act with haste and pass trauma legislation that puts patients first. Studies show that trauma patients are 25 percent more likely to survive a traumatic injury when treated in a trauma center and that chances of survival significantly increases when patients are treated within the “golden hour.” Having more trauma centers in Florida, in the appropriate places, will ensure that Florida’s residents will be well-taken care of in the case of a tragedy, such as the ones we as a nation experienced this week.

Col. Craig Aldrich is the Clay County Sheriff’s office Chief of Staff.

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