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Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

CMC re-opening after quick shutdown - emergency department first

 

Last updated 6/30/2022 at 7:19pm

Scott Hunter

A medical helicopter ambulance rests on CMC's helipad Thursday evening, while no cars are back in the parking lot yet, before the hospital re-opens Friday morning. Patients can still be transported from the urgent-care clinic the hospital "stood up" during the evacuation to take care of more critical patients.

After lab workers mysteriously got sick Tuesday, forcing an emergency closure, Coulee Medical Center will start a phased re-opening Friday morning, when it will "move forward cautiously," opening its emergency department first at 7 a.m.

The decision to re-open was made mid Thursday afternoon after a meeting with state officials.

It had been 20 hours with people in the building following that shut-down and subsequent investigations looking for a possible cause of the noxious odor that caused half the hospital's laboratory team to get sick.

After spending five hours in hazmat gear Wednesday looking for anything that could be the cause, state Dept. of Ecology investigators found nothing, reported Ramona Hicks, CMC's chief executive officer Thursday afternoon. DOE's personnel were the second set of investigators to try to detect a problem inside, protected by self-contained breathing apparatus, after responders from the Bureau of Reclamation tried soon after the evacuation.

Hicks said she and Penny Lewis, the manager of the lab, were first back in the building, unmasked to try to smell anything unusual. They couldn't, and suffered no ill effects, although an extraction team was standing by just in case.

After that, other lab workers and housekeeping staff were allowed in, with none affected.

"We're going to move forward cautiously," Hicks said Thursday afternoon.

That means moving equipment back into the emergency department first and opening it by 7 a.m. Friday.

Hicks said they would be following that opening by bringing back long-term care (LTC) and acute-care patients who had been taken to other facilities, along with making the contacts and planning the logistics to make that happen.

Patients and long-term care residents had been sent to facilities in surrounding towns, including Columbia Basin Hospital in Ephrata, which took on all the LTC residents. "Our goal was to keep as many long-term care residents together as possible," Hicks said, adding a "a big shout-out" for CBH's cooperation.

An important factor in bringing back services is not overwhelming the available lab workers who are not sick, Hicks said, about half of them. The others were still not feeling well Thursday after their exposure to whatever had caused their headaches, chest pains, shortness of breath and vomiting two days earlier.

Hicks thought the clinic would likely be open by Tuesday morning, although lab work could still be restricted to emergency or urgent-care tests only until the department is more fully staffed.

 

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