Updated: May 26
Elite team responds immediately to disasters and public health emergencies domestically and around the globe
Christopher Heiss, who has worked for more than 10 years at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., has been a flight nurse, a flight paramedic, and even the developer of a protective intubation shield, or the Barrier for Respiratory Aerosolization (BRA), equipment that protected frontline hospital workers and ambulance personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, after years of trying, he can finally add one more major achievement to his already impressive resume: Heiss has been named to the exclusive U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (US HHS) National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Trauma Critical Care Team (TCCT).
TCCT is the United States’ special operations medical force that is called on within the first 24 to 48 hours of natural and man-made disasters and public health emergencies to set up field hospitals or augment health systems to provide critical, operative, and emergency care to people in need.
TCCT members are medical professionals who are deployed at the request of local authorities to supplement federal, state, local, tribal and territorial resources, and the only component of the NDMS that is international, going anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice to respond to the crisis and then coordinate with the NDMS Patient Movement System to get U.S. citizen evacuated home or to a safe location for care.
While each state has at least one or multiple Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, with thousands of members nationwide, all working under the umbrella of Health & Human Services’ NDMS, TCCT is an elite operation, even serving at every presidential inauguration and State of the Union address. The United States has just one TCCT with 70 to 80 members spread across the country --- and Heiss is one of them.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, something that has been a long-time goal of mine,” Heiss said. “It’s incredibly humbling.”
Heiss applied in August 2020 and more than a year later finally was interviewed by a TCCT pioneer who was on the scene after earthquakes in Haiti and Iran, during flooding from Hurricane Katrina, and at ground zero after the 911 terrorist attacks on the United States. Just like crises emerge without warning, so did that interview. The trauma surgeon called one random Sunday afternoon asking him if he could talk “right now.” Yes, of course he could, he said.
Heiss was offered the position in October and takes his oath in January.
Heiss will continue to work for Geisinger. Like other TCCT members, he will keep his civilian job but have periods when he is on call for deployments and must serve out his mission before returning home.
As excited as he is about fulfilling this dream, Heiss says he is excited that eventually he will be able to serve the TCCT as a CRNA from Pennsylvania --- something that simply would not have been possible without Act 60 of 2021.
Before the enactment of that law on June 30, Pennsylvania had been one of just two states that failed to recognize “certified registered nurse anesthetist” in some form. With no definition for nurse anesthetists under the state’s Professional Nursing Law, CRNAs were recognized only as registered nurses.
That means Heiss had to secure credentials from another state to serve on the TCCT as a CRNA, which he did. By granting formal title recognition to nurse anesthetists, Act 60 changes all that --- for him and thousands of other CRNAs in Pennsylvania.
Heiss is already providing lifesaving and life-sustaining care to people where he lives and works. But now, through TCCT, whether it is deploying in the wake of a tornado or responding to a terrorist attack, he can put those same skills to work to help people across the United States and around the world.