Charlotte, N.C. — While more than 6,000 delegates and thousands of other onlookers gather inside Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena, a 13-bed mobile hospital sits just outside, ready to handle any medical emergency this week for the Democratic National Convention.

      MED-1, short for Mobile Emergency Department, is Carolinas HealthCare System’s rolling hospital and is assisting in medical response this week in Charlotte.

      If a delegate, dignitary, volunteer, or anyone else needs immediate attention, its staff of doctors is standing by, and MED-1 can treat everything from heat stroke to heart attack.

      The 1,000-square-foot emergency department boasts four intensive care beds, seven emergency department beds, two operating tables, ultrasound equipment, an x-ray machine, and a pharmacy. Carolinas describes it as a “modern hospital on wheels.”

      MED-1 can “more or less provide the same level of care,” as a traditional hospital and emergency department, David Callaway, MD, the unit’s medical director, said. “We can take care of trauma patients enough to sustain them.”

      It rolls out on two 54-foot trailers, one ferrying medical supplies and equipment and the other expanding to become a 13-bed hospital.

      The concept was first developed in the late 1990s when Charlotte was eyeing a mass casualty transit facility to treat the injured in case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Callaway said MED-1 was built with around $1.5 million using state, federal, and private grants.

      MED-1’s first deployment was in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when many New Orleans hospitals were destroyed or unusable. More recently, it traveled to assist Phoenix Indian Medical Center while its emergency department was closed for renovations.

      The mobile hospital can assist with community outreach providing vaccination clinics and health screenings and set up rural clinics for underserved areas. The staff can be prepared to see patients within 45 minutes of arrival on scene.

      Carolinas, the country’s second largest nonprofit hospital system, staffs MED-1 with emergency medicine physicians, intensive care and emergency medicine nurses, and paramedics and technicians from its hospitals around the country. The crew is cross-trained in medical care, so they serve as both provider and roadie. Even the drivers are paramedics, Callaway said.

      The closest hospital in Charlotte is still more than a mile away from the arena, so having a such facility on site can prove useful and necessary for convention goers, its doctors said.

      The medical staff has already treated patients at the DNC in Charlotte and expect a number of heat-related illnesses this week with the humid weather expected to climb into the 90s by week’s end.

      MED-1 also is an experiment in energy-efficient healthcare, explained A.J. Rossman, chief technology officer of SEWW Energy, an energy advisory company based in Charlotte. “The more efficient it is, the better the HVAC [heating/ventilation/air conditioning] systems can work, and the better the operating conditions.”

      SEWW Energy is examining the potential for a “microgrid” — a generation source (in this case, diesel fuel), electrical load levels that can be controlled, and some kind of electrical storage, primarily batteries — to help the MED-1 save energy.

      That can be very helpful in emergencies when an auxiliary power source is not readily available, Rossman noted. When SEWW Energy ran a computer model using various scenarios for energy savings, the company found that if a 25-kilowatt array was used, “we can get a little over 8 additional days for a 3-day deployment without having to refuel.”

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      David Pittman

      David Pittman is MedPage Today’s Washington Correspondent, following the intersection of policy and healthcare. He covers Congress, FDA, and other health agencies in Washington, as well as major healthcare events. David holds bachelors’ degrees in journalism and chemistry from the University of Georgia and previously worked at the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, Chemical Engineering News and most recently FDAnews.