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SUNY Upstate creates Katrina Response Unit in case medical care, expertise is needed

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - SUNY Upstate Medical University has developed a Katrina Response Unit (KRU), as requested by the National Institutes of Health, to coordinate the university's participation in various relief efforts in the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast. The university's response centers on the possible need for additional medical personnel and hospital beds to care for patients who have been evacuated from the disaster areas or have been injured or fallen ill from the disaster. Also the university will assist in providing medical education and research for students and medical residents displaced by the disaster.

"The devastation we have seen from Hurricane Katrina is unprecedented, and thus requires an unprecedented response from all who can assist," said SUNY Upstate President Gregory L. Eastwood, M.D. "As one of 125 academic medical centers in the nation, Upstate Medical University has informed federal officials and others of our capacity to respond to the disaster."

After participating in a conference call with the director of National Institutes of Health late yesterday, Steven J. Scheinman, M.D., executive vice president and dean of the College of Medicine, said University Hospital could be asked to admit some patients who have been evacuated from hospitals in the Gulf Coast. "As hospital beds fill up throughout the Gulf region with victims from the disaster or evacuated patients there may be a real need for hospitals located elsewhere to care for some of these patients," he said.

Scheinman said the NIH anticipates a need for facilities that specialize in caring for transplant and cancer patients, as well as patients in need of ICU care and other highly specialized care, all of which University Hospital provides.

Scheinman said the university will make physicians available for consultations via telemedicine, as requested by the NIH. "These virtual consultations can be especially valuable to physicians who may now be inundated and who need guidance on a difficult case," he said.

Mobilization of medical expertise is not new for University Hospital. Immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, hospital officials developed a response team that worked quickly to free up beds for potential victims needing hospitalization. "Our response today touches on many of the issues we faced at that time, though each disaster is unique," Scheinman said.

John McCabe, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, will serve as director of the KRU, and has immediately begun assembling a team of physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals to coordinate the university's response.

The university is working with the Association of American Medical Colleges to accommodate medical students who no longer have access to classes. Already several students have expressed an interest in attending classes at SUNY Upstate. Arrangements to facilitate those requests are expected to be made in the coming days.

SUNY Upstate is also attempting to provide assistance to medical residents or researchers and doctoral students in need of laboratory space.

The colleges of Nursing, Graduate Studies and Health Professions are also poised to assist students and officials in the Gulf states with medical expertise should it be needed.

"There are many uncertainties about what will happen tomorrow or even next month as we come together to assist those in need from the disaster," Eastwood said. "I ask all of the SUNY Upstate family to stand ready to assist the university as it responds to our neighbors in the Gulf Coast."