Four hundred soldiers with "broken arms," "shrapnel wounds" and "severe psychological traumas" will be dispatched to 44 civilian hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington area next Tuesday as part of a military exercise designed to test a Pentagon plan on how well civilian facilities handle large numbers of war casualties.
The test, one of the largest yet of the Civilian-Military Contingency Hospital System (CMCHS), is troubling some doctors who don't want their participation in the exercise to be construed as support for war.
Doctors at Baltimore City Hospital will hold a press conference Tuesday on the hospital steps to read a statement currently circulating at other hospitals concerning the exercise.
"What the doctors are very upset about is that they are being included in the Pentagon's preparations for war and are not being given a voice," said Albert Donnay, of the Baltimore chapter of Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR). These doctors believe the scenario for conventional war under which the Pentagon has enlisted the civilian facilities is unrealistic, and a conventional war would quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict, to which there is no effective response.
A spokesman for the Washington chapter of PSR said doctors in the group are in the "tricky" position of "being committed to meeting the health care needs of the nation in times of war" while at the same time trying to educate the public and the medical community that there is "no effective medical response to nuclear war."
CMCHS, which is pronounced "Chimpses," has been endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. As of last spring, 433 hospitals had voluntarily agreed to commit 36,000 beds to the network, which is the Pentagon's way of saving money and compensating for a shortage of beds in military hospitals. The number of military beds has fallen from 300,000 after World War II to less than 20,000 today.
Lt. Col. Billy Solesbee, assistant administrator of the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, says that Operation Joint Eagle will involve 100 military and medical personnel. The hospitals are voluntarily participating in the exercise, which will satisfy the national accreditation requirement that they stage a disaster exercise yearly.
During the exercise, marines from Quantico and soldiers from Fort Meade will receive gruesome make-up jobs and acting tips in order to play casualties of a conventional "Vietnam-type" war. They will be flown to Andrews and Fort Meade in C-130s, sorted and bused to area hospitals where they will be admitted, treated, served lunch, and released.