October 27, 2009: U.S. Army Mobile hospitals are getting more mobile. The latest innovation is putting more and more parts of the mobile hospitals in shipping containers, which are ready to use once the doors are opened, power plugged in and lights and equipment turned on. This is about an hour faster than the DRASH (Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelters) shelters. DRASH come in several sizes. A typical one travels as a 48 cubic foot package, weighing 644 pounds. But within two hours, it is assembled into a 33x13 foot (413 square feet), air conditioned shelter, for whichever part of the hospital needs it. A CSH (combat support hospital) will use several of these. Once the equipment is moved in and set up, the healing can begin. The tents are taken down and packed away in about an hour, allowing for rapid movements, in order to keep up with fast moving operations.
Mobile hospitals were once called MASH (mobile army surgical hospital), but over the last three decades, these have been converted to CSH (Combat Support Hospital, or "cash"). Three years ago, the last MASH (the 212th) was converted (via the addition of $5 million in new gear, and 120 more personnel) to the 212th CSH. The CSH is more than a larger (624 personnel, 256 beds) MASH, it is modular, and can split itself into smaller, 33 or 84 bed, hospitals. This is a capability needed to provide support to the new Brigade Combat Teams.
The MASH was developed in response to World War II experience, where it was noted that, the more quickly surgical services could be provided to badly wounded soldiers, the more likely they were to survive. Subsequently, some 97 percent of wounded soldiers who reached a MASH, survived. The value of this concept was proven in Korea, Vietnam, and all other wars since then. The last mission of the 212th MASH was in Pakistan, where earthquake victims were treated. While the organization and equipment of MASH units has changed over the years, it's basic mission remained the same. In effect, the CSH continues that mission, with the main difference being the ability of the CSH to send off "mini-MASH" detachments for the support of widely separated combat brigades.
The container approach has been more attractive to civilian disaster relief operations, and that were systems like TransHospital, originally designed for the military, are going. DRASH is more labor intensive, but the military has less trouble getting doctors and nurses to help pitch tents and haul gear than do civilian operations.