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Weather Caused Unique Challenges for UCLA Health System Professionals Caring for LA Marathon Runners

Big Blue Buses served as MASH Unit for UCLA Medical Team during LA Marathon.  Photo by Amy Abrams.
Torrential rain, gusting winds and unseasonably cold temperatures during Sunday’s LA Marathon posed unique challenges not only for the 19,000-plus runners, but also the UCLA Health System medical team waiting at the finish line to take care of them.

UCLA served as medical provider for the event and staffed three medical stations beyond the finish line, as well as the lone first-aid station in Santa Monica located at mile 24 on San Vicente Boulevard near 11th Street.

When the UCLA medical station located within the Finish Line Festival Area was flooded, team members worked quickly and collaboratively with Santa Monica firefighters and city officials to create a makeshift MASH unit on Big Blue Buses.

“When our tent started flooding, the first thought was to relocate it,†recalled Tim Van Pelt,†nursing team leader at the station, located near Ocean and Colorado avenues. “Then we realized there were all these heated buses sitting idly nearby, so why not use them instead?â€

With one bus designated for females and another for males many of the soaking wet runners used blankets for privacy as well as warmth while being treated for hypothermia and other ailments.

Other Big Blue Buses were employed as warming stations for dozens of shivering runners suffering from mild to moderate hypothermia. Runners who simply needed to keep moving to prevent cramping were instructed to walk up and down the bus aisles.

UCLA nurses used the hand rails inside the buses to hang IV bags for those runners who required intravenous fluids for dehydration. “It really reminded me of a MASH unit,†said Edith Matesic, director of nursing at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, who served as site captain.

“We prepare for all kinds of scenarios at our hospitals through regular disaster drills, which really paid off in this situation,†she continued. “When we needed to improvise, our staff responded without hesitation.â€

Flexibility was a recurring theme throughout the day. When it became apparent that UCLA’s medical stations would become inundated with runners who simply needed a place to dry off and get warm after finishing the marathon, hospital officials sought assistance from the nearby Fairmont-Miramar Hotel.

Posie Carpenter, Santa Monica-UCLA’s chief administrative officer and lead person for the medical team was thankful for the help of all community members, “The Fairmont and other hotels responded like the great community partners that they are,†said Carpenter. “Their assistance was instrumental to our flexible and highly collaborative efforts to take care of the runners.â€

Equally important was the help from other area hospitals, the American Red Cross of Santa Monica and the Salvation Army, which provided badly needed blankets when the mylar wraps provided by marathon officials proved ineffective in warming runners.

More than 125 UCLA physicians, nurses and other health professionals donated their time and talents to take care of runners. Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of Santa Monica-UCLA’s Nethercutt Emergency Center, supervised medical operations and coordinated efforts with Santa Monica fire and police officials.

“This was a massive undertaking involving a huge commitment of resources and personnel from throughout our health system,†Carpenter explained. “Under the worst of conditions, our team demonstrated the best of community service. I’m incredibly proud.â€

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