Physician Volunteers Rushed to Help at West Disaster

July 15, 2013  

When a fertilizer plant explosion ripped through the small north-central Texas town of West, area physicians sprang into action to care for the injured and prevent more deaths.

“The physician response to the disaster in West was spontaneous, immediate, and overwhelming in scope,” said Waco otolaryngologist Bradford Holland, MD, immediate past-president of the McLennan County Medical Society (MCMS). “Neither Hillcrest nor Providence [area hospitals] officially called for physician support, but a significant bulk of the medical staff, representing a broad spectrum of specialties, showed up,” he told the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Texas Medicine magazine. West is located in the northern tip of McLennan County.

Dr. Holland learned of the incident via social media and immediately called the Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center/Scott & White Healthcare emergency department to ask about incoming casualties. He arrived to help just as the first injured patients did too. “The events of the evening were both tragic and inspiring in terms of the medical response,” he said.

That mid-April night physicians treated about 110 patients at Hillcrest and about 50 at Providence Health Center, as well as hospitals in Temple, Dallas and Fort Worth. Dr. Holland sutured six wounded patients that night.

Waco internist and MCMS President Lisa Duchamp, MD, traveled to West the night of the explosion and helped triage patients at the community center with her medical partner, Felicia Macik, DO.

With coordination from MCMS, physicians helped care for injured patients for two weeks after the disaster. Area doctors, including Dr. Holland, assisted patients at the West community center – residents who were injured while rummaging through debris.

The state has a network of agencies that oversee emergency medical response during disasters. The Texas Disaster Medical System (TDMS) is a statewide collaboration among Texas Department of State Health Services and public health and acute medical professionals to improve disaster response in Texas. TDMS’ director, Emily Kidd, MD, heard about the explosion about 10 minutes after it happened, and rushed to the scene from San Antonio. She stresses the importance of having a structured, formal system through which physicians and other health professionals can volunteer during emergencies. She says doing so helps preserve patient safety and helps protect physician responders from potential injury.

Dr. Duchamp was pleased by physician response but also acknowledges the need to improve local emergency preparedness efforts. Since MCMS lacked a solid plan for physician emergency response, the county society is defining its role in emergencies alongside emergency medical service and trauma professionals, hospital officials, and those involved in community disaster preparedness.

William “Chip” Riggins, MD, executive director and local health authority of Williamson County and Cities Health District, agrees about the importance of planning for unexpected public health emergencies. “Public health preparedness is a journey, not a destination. We’re continuously working to improve our public health and medical plans, policies, and procedures,” said Dr. Riggins, a member of the TMA Council on Science and Public Health.

Dr. Duchamp says she’s proud so many physicians responded, volunteering to care for patients. “It was a true honor to assist the people of West who are not only our family and friends, but who are also our patients and coworkers,” Dr. Duchamp said.

 TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 47,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 112 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.  

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Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
cell: (512) 413-6807

Brent Annear
phone: (512) 370-1381
cell: (512) 656-7320


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