City hospitals prepare to handle radioactive emergency
by Richard J. Bocklett
Mar 22, 2011 | 1208 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The inside of a decontamination facility at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
The inside of a decontamination facility at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
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Contamination with dust or debris from chemical, biological or radiological incidents – either accidental or terrorist-initiated – are ever-present threats in today’s highly technological world.

This includes radiation release from a truck or train nuclear transport spill, a nuclear power plant accident, a nuclear terrorism attack, or other hazards spreading radioactive material into the environment.

In such critical situations, Elmhurst Hospital Center (EHC) is geared to swiftly decontaminate victims and provide needed emergency care

Since July 2009, EHC’s two decontamination trailers – for men and women – have been stationed outside the entrance to the Emergency Department to service 10 victims at one time for a 10-minute decontamination process.

The first step is the undressing area, where clothes are put through a slot to fall into a bin outside. In a private washing station, the patient cleans with a brush and piped-in soap and water. After washing, he or she dresses in clothing provided in a privacy kit and then goes directly into the emergency room.

Once there, patients are checked by medical staff for signs and symptoms of injury, and then treated accordingly.

“Every hospital in the city is required to have decon facilities, and they are all beefing up their capabilities as resources become available,” said William Fasbender, associate director of Safety Management. “In a disaster with mass casualties, the New York City plan is to distribute patients to the many hospitals.

“With mass casualties,” he continued, “we might separate injured versus contaminated persons and treat some injuries first or give them a hasty decon and abbreviated examination. Also, there’s a portable decon shower facility for six patients at a time we can pull into use.”

There is complete anti-radiation clothing for members of the decon team including protective coveralls, surgical gloves, masks and caps along with shoe coverings.

Entrances to the hospital are monitored by radiation area detectors that signal alarm in the event of high radiation levels, and hospital personnel in chemical suits with Geiger counters measure radioactivity on a person or objects. A beeper-like dosimeter on the belt alerts hospital personnel of threats.

Fasbender said hospital staff regularly attend training programs on emergency preparedness for a variety of situation.

“We had field exercises fully suited in cumbersome and hot chemical-protective attire for more than an hour, making movement somewhat difficult,” said Fasbender. “But this is needed experience, for if and when, the real thing happens.”

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