As Hurricane Sandy made landfall Monday, hospitals and health care organizations in the state braced for supply interruptions and a potential influx of patients.
During a conference call Monday, Maine Emergency Management Agency staff asked all acute-care hospitals in the state, as well as assisted-living and long-term care facilities, to report on available beds in the event that patients from storm-battered areas need to be sent north, according to Tory Ryden, spokeswoman for Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.
LifeFlight of Maine grounded its two helicopter ambulances Monday morning, leaving them under cover at airports in Bangor and Auburn until the worst of the storm has passed. Bad weather typically keeps only one chopper out of the air at a time, but Hurricane Sandy called for added precaution, said LifeFlight spokeswoman Melissa Arndt.
“The pilots are guided by FAA regulations for when they can fly again,” she said. “They are watching the weather very closely, and will bring the helicopters out just as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
Stationed at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, the helicopters land at accident scenes and transfer critically injured or ill patients from rural hospitals to trauma centers. LifeFlight also employs ground crews who treat and transport patients by ambulance when the helicopters are unavailable.
Maine Medical Center in Portland hauled in extra truckloads of oxygen masks, IV tubing, medications, linens and other supplies, anticipating that downed trees or electrical wires could block access to the hospital’s distribution center in Westbrook.
“We’ve got many, many days of supplies, things we know we use a lot of. We make our own little warehouse on-site,” said Joshua Frances, director of emergency management for MMC.
Emergency room staff prepared for a potential uptick in carbon monoxide poisonings — the result of unsafe operation of generators, which emit the deadly, odorless gas — and injuries related to people clearing debris after the storm, such as chain saw lacerations, he said.
“Heart attacks and car accidents and the regular, routine injuries, those are still going to continue to happen,” Frances said.
York Hospital, which is located just a mile from the coast, directed its maintenance crew to shore up areas that have flooded in the past, during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and the Mother’s Day storm of May 2006, said Dawn Fernald, director of marketing and public relations.
“This storm will be nothing compared to that,” she said.
Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, situated just steps from the bay, made sure that storm drains were cleared to avoid a repeat of a 2008 flood that forced the evacuation of patients, said spokeswoman Kelley Columver.
Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick planned to close all of its medical offices by 4 p.m. Monday. The hospital has received its weekly supply of red blood cells, but foresaw potential short delays in accessing blood for patients with special requirements and getting platelets, which are supplied out of Lewiston, according to Sue Ross, director of laboratory services at Mid Coast.
The storm led the American Red Cross to cancel 100 planned blood drives in 11 states, including one in Portland, leading to a shortfall of 3,200 expected donations of blood and platelets, said Ellen Russell, director of Maine operations for blood services. Supplies are being routed to areas hardest hit by the storm, and the Red Cross urged people to donate as soon as it’s safe to leave home, she said.
“We would like to make up some of these lost units over the next week or couple of weeks,” Russell said.
Parkview Adventist Medical Center, like many other hospitals, had a crew specially trained in emergency situations on standby Monday. The hospital was gauging whether to call in more staff overnight Monday into Tuesday, Ryden said.
“Right now we’re following the mandates of the emergency preparedness system,” she said. “If something were to escalate weather-wise, we’ll be on alert.”
BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.
State urges generator safety
With thousands of Mainers losing power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reminded residents to operate generators safely outside.
“One of the things we worry about most during and after a big storm is people using gas-powered generators improperly when the power goes out,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette said in a statement.
After Tropical Storm Irene hit Maine and New England in August 2011, carbon monoxide poisoning caused two deaths and four non-fatal poisonings in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. In each case, carbon monoxide resulted from improper operation of generators during the power outages following the storm.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed through the burning of most types of fuels. Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include flulike symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
• Place generators outdoors at least 15 feet from windows or doors. Do not place a generator in a closed or partially closed space, such as a basement, cellar bulkhead, or attached garage.
• Make a plan to keep your generator dry and protected from rain. Generators pose a risk of shock and electrocution, especially in wet conditions. Dry your hands before touching a generator.
• Do not use outdoor cooking devices, such as grills or camp stoves, indoors.
• Place a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector outside each sleeping area.
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