Bismark's St. Alexius Medical Center Installs Decontamination Facility

St. Alexius Medical Center is the first hospital in the state to install a lead-lined decontamination room that can handle mass numbers in radioactive, chemical and biological events, says Derek Hanson, safety and emergency management director for the hospital.

The "Mass Decon System" was purchased with Homeland Security funds at a cost of $25,000. It allows patients to enter into the system every two minutes, providing decontamination for large numbers of victims.

Hanson said on Friday that the hospital has had a decontamination system for the past eight years, but could previously handle only one to five patients at a time.

"As of today, we can now handle hundreds of people," he said. The time it takes to decontaminate people depends on the type of agent involved, he said, as well as the extent of contamination.

Statistics indicate that 60 percent to 80 percent of the public involved in a chemical or hazardous event will "self present" to the hospital, rather than waiting for emergency medical services and fire departments to respond to their location, making it imperative that hospitals be prepared to receive and treat large numbers of people.

"Looking at events around the world, it has become evident that most people won't wait," Hanson said. "With a large-scale event, you either have to be prepared to handle large numbers of people showing up at once, or lock the doors to avoid contaminating the hospital. Obviously, we don't want to lock the doors."

St. Alexius will conduct an orientation with selected staff and members of the media on Feb. 23: curtains will drop from the ceiling, the garage will lock down, a special ventilation system will activate before receiving "contaminated" participants, and finally, shower heads will decontaminate the "patients" so they can enter the medical center "clean."

[Bismarck Tribune, The (ND) (KRT) -- 02/16/06]