Yokota doctors returning from Guam hospital
December 23, 2002
TAMUNING, Guam — Yokota Air Base’s Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) team is folding up its tents and heading back to Japan.
A week after the first team members arrived, with plans on spending Christmas in the tropics, their work is no longer needed.
“They’ve done a very speedy job in recovery,” Lt. Col. Mike Culhane, EMEDS team commander, said of Guam Memorial Hospital.
Yokota deployed its biggest EMEDS package — a 86-member field unit and equipment to sustain 25 beds — on a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA is the lead agency in Guam’s typhoon recovery; President Bush declared the U.S. territory a federal disaster area after Super Typhoon Pongsona devastated the island Dec. 8 with winds of up to 184 mph.
In summoning support for Guam’s only civilian hospital, FEMA acted on a request from Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez, said John Shea, a FEMA public information officer.
“The governor says, ‘This is what we need,’ the hospital says, ‘This is what we need,’ and we just oblige,” Shea said.
The hospital sustained significant infrastructure damage and lost commercial power after the storm. The EMEDS team was called in as a “safety net,” Culhane said, to help the hospital with any patients its staff could not see due to overflow or damage.
Shea said overestimating the need for medical support staff at GMH is not a mistake, on behalf of Guam or FEMA.
“It’s a ‘better-be-safe-than-sorry’ kind of mentality,” he said. “They roll in medical and disaster assistance as quickly as they can and as much as they can, so people can have the resources that they need.”
While the EMEDS set up a field hospital in GMH’s parking lot, teams from other federal agencies worked on repairing the hospital.
Still unknown is what the EMEDS deployment cost. But there was concern about how the large deployment would affect medical care at Yokota. The EMEDS package included all medical specialities, including dentists, an obstetrician and gynecologist and a surgeon. Culhane said Friday that the EMEDS team all would return to Yokota in the next three or four days. About a dozen hopped a C-9 from Guam back to Yokota on Friday.
“When we do a deployment like this, a huge medical need at home is sacrificed,” Culhane said.
For many on the EMEDS team, this was their first real-world experience setting up and providing care in the field hospital.
“This gave us invaluable operational experience if we have to deploy again,” he said.
The team also saw “quite a few number of patients,” Culhane said, averaging more than 30 a day in the “emergency room” tent.
The hospital’s needs exceeded the initial four-bed EMEDS package, which deployed Dec. 13. The field hospital admitted five patients at one time, Culhane said.
Personnel from Yokota’s 374th Medical Group encountered a few unusual medical situations, which they said tested their skills.
One of the EMEDS’ dentists pulled two rotting teeth while the patient sat in a folding chair. The local man came in with a toothache before the dental chair was unpacked.
Staff working the emergency room figured out fast to expect surprises.
“We’ve seen quite a few dog bites — nasty dog bites,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Moore, 38, an independent duty medical technician.
Guam has a noticeable wild dog population. It’s common to see stray dogs scavenging along roadsides.
ER personnel also have seen injuries related to the typhoon.
“We’re seeing lacerations as a result of people cleaning up after the typhoon, boards falling on their feet, cuts,” Moore said.