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We are the front line: MMU team juggles deployments with grace

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, British Columbians across the province have had to deal with enough twists and turns to last us until 2025.
Mobile Medical Unit and Abbotsford Regional Hospital staff working together
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The Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) team is certainly no different. They've seen their share of curve balls the last 90 days. But unlike a rookie struggling to make the major leagues, the team has hit those curve balls out of the park, notching a handful of "first-evers" along the way.

Testing, testing

2020 began relatively quietly for Health Emergency Management BC's MMU team but it didn't take long for things to get hectic in a hurry.  As all of us across BC were doing our best to make sense of the world in the early days of the pandemic, the MMU team was also doing something unusual: helping set up a mobile site that didn't involve the MMU itself. 

Putting their expertise in temporary facilities and field set-up to good use, the team proved invaluable in helping Providence Health Care establish a COVID assessment site in Vancouver, where thousands of physicians and care workers have been tested.

Mobile Medical Unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Let's take this inside

From there, things took an unexpected turn when the team was tasked with their first-ever indoor deployment: a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health and the Canadian Red Cross inside the Vancouver Convention Centre to serve as a COVID-negative overflow facility. It was a location that began a little cautiously for the MMU team, given the unique nature of the set-up.

"Deploying indoors provided us a chance to plan for some new things, like power sources, ventilation, infection prevention and control, patient flow, PPE, isolation areas and more," says Jamie Carballo, manager of MMU planning and logistics.
After working out the hundreds of logistical challenges that went along with this unique deployment, their marching orders changed and they began preparing to be a COVID-positive facility. 

While this might seem like a simple matter of semantics for some of us, for the MMU team this translated into some significant changes that needed to be handled quickly. 

Changes happen on the fly

Fast forward a couple of weeks and, with Mission Institution staff and inmates finding themselves at the epicentre of BC's largest outbreak, Corrections Canada reached out to the province asking for help at their facility. 

Before they knew it, the phone rang and, within hours, the MMU team was packed up and motoring up Hwy 1 on their way to Abbotsford to support the Fraser Health Authority team.

Mobile Medical Unit interior while set up at Abbotsfor Regional Hospital

With dozens of confirmed cases at that time, Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) teams were in the midst of implementing a surge plan for these COVID-positive patients. ARH staff saw opportunities to integrate with the MMU and discussions produced a solid plan for dealing with an outbreak that saw more than 140 inmates and prison staff tested and confirmed for the virus.

The Abbotsford deployment wasn't without its plot twists as this was the first time the MMU team needed to incorporate high security into a location. "At Abbotsford, the MMU works well because it brings physical separation of patient care," says Jamie. "We're able to keep patients secure from the others and Abbotsford care staff are the ones providing patient care."

Even while the team was on the ground in Abbotsford, members of the team were continuing to support the Vancouver Convention Centre through exercise design and clinical education support.

Ramp up to Mobile Medical Unit

Time to move on

With the number of infected guards and inmates thankfully waning, it's soon time for the MMU to pack up and move on. What lies ahead for the team in 2020?

With a schedule over the past decade that has seen the MMU deploy more than 60 times across the province for public health outreach, emergency and disaster education, renovation support and surge. The MMU team knows they'll be in action again soon. But exactly where? That's still being worked out.

"The fact we were able to re-deploy from one environment to another to support the various health authorities truly demonstrates how adaptive and responsive the MMU and our team are," says MMU clinical operations director Peter Hennecke. "These deployments also provided an opportunity for PHSA to collaborate with operational leaders from Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health Authority."
But amongst the many lessons the MMU team has learned the last while, it's that they need to expect – and be prepared for – the unexpected.

This adaptability is one of the reasons that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry described the MMU team and equipment as "…kind of an amazing thing and it's a great asset that we have here in the province."
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