Nebraska Medicine is one of two health centers nationwide to receive a $3 million federal grant to conduct a pilot project demonstrating how a regional response system could work — and help save lives — in a disaster large enough to overwhelm local hospitals.

Examples of the kinds of situations the group might plan for include the massive 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Nebraska Medicine already participates in a local health care coalition focused on disaster response. It’s one of six across Nebraska. The health system also collaborates with other partners in the region, which also covers Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, as the regional center for Ebola and other infectious diseases.

The intent behind the grant is to broaden the effort into an all-hazards collaboration, said Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at Nebraska Medicine.

The regional system will build on the local coalitions and trauma centers, creating a tiered system of disaster care. It’s expected to integrate with emergency medical services, burn centers, pediatric hospitals, public health labs and outpatient services, for example. The effort also will pull together communities across the state. They play a role in disaster response but often do so in isolation.

“This has the potential to connect us all in a really meaningful way,” she said.

Nebraska Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston were among 19 applicants selected by an expert panel to receive the grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Schwedhelm serves as Nebraska Medicine’s lead on the grant. Dr. James Lawler, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is the principal investigator.

Both of the regional systems are to serve as examples for others across the nation. Schwedhelm said she sees the Nebraska effort as a rural model. Massachusetts General, which the Nebraska Medical Center works with on infectious diseases, will create an urban one.

“When we’re done with this one-year grant,” she said, “we’ll have the opportunity to share, ‘How do you create this larger-scale state and regional response?’ ”

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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