En-Route Patient Staging System: Caring for Puerto Rico

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez

The En-Route Patient Staging System (ERPSS) team assigned to the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, is currently providing patient care as part of the Defense Support to Civil Authorities efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

The ERPSS mission is to support patients, in response to a disaster, by preparing them for transport to a safe location through aeromedical evacuation.

“Basically, they get patients out of the disaster area and into a safe location, all while still conducting medical care,” said Col. Tee Williford, the 6th MDG deputy commander and administrator. “Whatever the patient care issue is, they get them stabilized and put them on an aircraft.”

The 15-person team consists of physicians, nurses and technicians who are trained to perform their duties in a deployed environment. Additional skillsets like flight surgeons, biomedical equipment repair, and communications specialists can be added based upon mission requirements.

“Wherever in the world, this team can go and get people ready to be transported to a safe location, where they can get further medical care,” said Williford. “They can go anywhere and set up.”

This team’s self-contained system makes them uniquely versatile and adaptable. They bring their own vehicles, generator, food, water, medical equipment and other supplies necessary to operate for 30 days.

“Once they get notified of a deployment tasking, they get all of their equipment onto a plane and are ready to go anywhere in the world within 12-hours,” said Williford. “Once they arrive at a station, they need no support as they offload and begin setting up to receive patients.”

When an ERPSS is deployed in a disaster role aiding civilian patients, they are considered to be a Disaster Aeromedical Staging Facility (DASF).

“As DASF, the team assists the movement of patients from existing healthcare facilities that are not able to provide the appropriate level of care to a new facility that can provide the necessary quality of care,” said Rex Hobbs, the director of medical plans and readiness assigned to the 6th MDG. “They are acting as the conduit to transport patients out of the disaster area.”

MacDill is one of a few installations across the Air Force possessing this capability to move approximately 140 patients every 24 hours, and stands ready to provide support during national disasters.

“The EERPS, or DASF, is postured in Puerto Rico and is ready to receive and prepare patients for air evacuation,” said Williford. “Due to the erratic nature of their mission and the types of patients, the team must go the extra mile to ensure safe movement of patients within a limited time and with limited knowledge of the patient’s background.”

The team left for Puerto Rico Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, after their request for support was approved by the Secretary of Defense, and is currently staged and supporting the movement of patients all over the island.

“The 6th MDG ERPSS is well-trained and ready for disaster support missions like Hurricane Maria,” said Williford. “These missions are extremely unpredictable, but our team is flexible and able to adapt to unique environments.”