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Willmar to host emergency preparedness conference

WILLMAR -- Willmar will be the host next week for the annual conference of the Southwest Emergency Preparedness Team.

The conference will take place Wednesday through Friday at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center and will include Dr. Edward Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, as one of the guest speakers on Thursday. Ehlinger was appointed in January to head the department, which is the state's leading public health agency.

The Southwest Emergency Preparedness Team is based in southwestern Minnesota and represents 23 hospitals, 43 primary care clinics, 54 emergency medical services and 50 nursing homes in a 16-county area. Regional partners include state and local representatives from public health, Homeland Security, emergency management, the emergency medical services regulatory board and two tribal governments.

The annual conference will provide educational sessions and training exercises in emergency preparedness.

One of the highlights will be the presence of the Minnesota Mobile Medical Unit. Containing 1,000 square feet, the trailer can house up to two critical-care beds and six general care beds for sick or injured patients. The unit can be deployed to help provide care in communities where the hospital is non-functional or when a local hospital's ability to provide care is overextended, which could happen in the event of a natural disaster such as flooding or a tornado or other type of disaster.

The mobile medical unit will be used during a training exercise scheduled for Friday.

Along with the mobile medical unit, the conference also will highlight the Minnesota Ambulance Strike Team. This organization will provide examples of resources that are available to the region. Team members also will have the opportunity to exercise key components of their operation, such as set-up of equipment and testing communication capabilities.

The Minnesota Department of Health provides funding support for the region through the Healthcare System Preparedness Program through the Office of Emergency Preparedness.