Terror in Charlottesville: How UVA Medical Center and other hospitals responded to this weekend's violence

After rescheduling appointments and bolstering staff in anticipation of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, local health facilities cared for multiple injuries stemming from the protest and counter-protest.

How can hospitals prepare for disasters?

Background

On Saturday, self-identified white nationalists and "alt-right" supporters held a "Unite the Right" rally to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Counter-protestors demonstrated against the rally.

Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell last Thursday said police expected between 2,000 and 6,000 individuals to be in and around Emancipation Park, where the rally was held.

How hospitals prepared

To prepare for the protest and counter-protest, Sentara Martha Jefferson and the University of Virginia (UVA) Medical Center boosted medical and security staff, particularly for the ICU and ED. According to UVA Medical Center spokesperson Josh Barney, UVA Medical Center also rescheduled elective surgeries that had been planned for Saturday. Barney said, "These preparations aim to ensure that we can provide the best possible care to all our patients."

Tom Berry, director of UVA Medical Center's Emergency Services, explained that the medical center activated its "command center" for the weekend, preparing as it would for a severe weather event.

"We activate it for various events, whether it's an anticipation of natural disaster, or technology outages, or human hazards," Berry said. "The first way we do that is by decompressing the [ED] in the inpatient floors" and ensuring "that we have OR capacity on Saturday in case we get traumas or injuries."

According to Berry, the hospital looked at responses to traumatic events in Orlando and Paris to guide its emergency plan.

UVA Medical Center is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the area.

Fatalities, injuries at the protest

During the protest on Saturday, a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman—Heather Heyer—and injuring 19 others. Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized the attack as "domestic terrorism," adding, "You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack."

As of Sunday, the alleged driver, James Fields, was being held in a Virginia jail, according to Martin Kumer, superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail. Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death, CNN reports.

In addition, two Virginia State Patrol troopers—State Police Trooper Berke Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen—were killed in a helicopter crash while "assisting public safety resources with the ... situation," according to an agency release.

Update on patients

UVA Health System on Sunday tweeted that nine of the people who sustained injuries had been discharged from the hospital, while the remaining 10 patients were in "good condition." The tweet was an update from several hours earlier, when the health system had said that in addition to the fatality, five patients were in critical condition, four in serious condition, six in fair condition, and four in good condition.

The health system also tweeted that it has "treated additional patients related to Saturday's events" but said it does not have "an exact number of patients." According to the health system, UVA Health System as of Sunday evening "return[ed] to its regular operating schedule."

Speaking to the medical center's efforts to care for those affected by the protest, Allison Martin, a physician at UVA Health System, tweeted, "I've never been prouder to be a part of the @UVA health family. We had each other's backs every step of the way."

UVA Health System retweeted Martin's post, stating:

Merck CEO quits Trump council, citing response to violence

In related health care industry news, Merck CEO and Chair Kenneth Frazier on Monday resigned from President Trump's American Manufacturing Council, citing Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville.

At a news conference after Heyer's death, Trump told reporters, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country. ... It has no place in America."

According to NPR's "The Two-Way," Trump's comment drew backlash from people for not explicitly condemning the far right and white nationalists.

On Monday, Frazier tweeted about his decision to step down, posting, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."

In response to Frazier's announcement, Trump tweeted, "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES."

Separately, Trump during a Monday press conference explicitly denounced the white-supremacist movement, the Daily Beast reports. Trump stated, "To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable, justice will be delivered. ... We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God."

Trump continued, "Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans." (Thrush, New York Times, 8/14; Daily Beast, 8/14; Phillips tweet, 8/14; Whitten, CNBC, 8/14; WVIR, 8/10; Hellmann, The Hill, 8/14; McKenzie, Daily Progress, 8/10; White, Newsplex/CBS 19, 8/11; Hanna et al., CNN, 8/13; Shapiro et al., Washington Post, 8/13; Correa, KHOU, 8/13; WDBJ 7, 8/13; UVA Health Twitter feed, accessed 8/14; Chappell, "The Two-Way," NPR, 8/14; Horwitz, Washington Post, 8/14).

How can hospitals prepare for disasters?

Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.

Download the Resources


Next in the Daily Briefing

Study: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries might incur greater out-of-pocket hospital costs

Read now