Wednesday 7 December 2011

Medical sites chosen in Cairns to avoid cyclone Yasi-style fiasco

Kelly Burns
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Evacuated: Cairns Base Hospital evacuees from cyclone Yasi wait in the departure lounge at Cairns airport before being flown to Brisbane.

New evacuation contingency plans to be released today identify Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, James Cook University and Woree State High as sites where temporary medical treatment centres can be set up in the event of a major disaster. In February, cyclone Yasi forced the city’s hospitals to close and more than 250 patients were evacuated by 13 aircraft to Queensland hospitals.

With the base hospital closed, people had to attend makeshift health centres. The sub-standard care at these makeshift centres included a woman being forced to give birth on a basketball court. But a new disaster management plan to be announced today aims to ensure the city’s health services are "cyclone-ready" this season. An army general was also reviewing the hospital’s evacuation plan and will visit the region in the coming weeks.

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said now contingency plans were in place the district was ready to meet "whatever Mother Nature might throw at us". The plans would ensure the region was well prepared for natural disasters and identified three venues for use as "alternative hospital-style treatment centres" if Cairns Base Hospital had to be evacuated. "If a cyclone forces evacuations from Cairns Base Hospital we will set up a temporary acute medical treatment centre at Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, James Cook University and/or at Woree Sate High School," Mr Wilson said.

Fifteen sites had been assessed on their access for patients, helicopters, ambulances and healthcare staff, geographical distribution and likelihood of flooding; 10 failed to make criteria and two were not acceptable for cyclones. The chosen three could be easily mobilised as alternative treatment centres. Mr Wilson said the new health precinct at Edmonton announced as part of the region’s draft health service plan was a longer-term solution and would serve as a second, permanent base for patients if the hospital was evacuated.

Cairns and Hinterland Health Service District chief executive Julie Hartley-Jones said the university site would be the obvious choice in the extremely unlikely event of an exact repeat of Yasi. She said the key to good emergency planning was not to assume any disaster would be the same as the last. "That’s why a number of different sites have been chosen to ensure we are prepared for any emergency situation – be it cyclone, storm, bushfire or mudslide, to name a few."

The plan was about providing safe options for every situation, she said. Maj-Gen Paul Alexander, Surgeon General Australian Defence Force, has also been appointed to advise the government on disaster planning measures for Cairns.

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