When a big storm strikes, sending most workers home early, doctors and nurses are right there with police and plow drivers as the first called in to lend a hand.
After almost a week of icy conditions, Bangor-area hospitals Friday reported busy emergency rooms, high demand for backup staff and scattered challenges presented by electrical blackouts.
At Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, where a backup generator has been supplying electricity since Wednesday, President Paul Barrette said he hasn’t seen anything like this week’s emergency effort in 20 years.
“In my mind, it only compares to Massachusetts during the Blizzard of 1978,” he said.
Maine Coast has been operating off an emergency generator since Wednesday night, when a falling tree knocked out the main electrical feed line to the hospital, Barrette said. On Friday afternoon, he said 60 percent of the facility was up and running. Priority had been given to essential patient care areas. Nonemergency surgeries were postponed.
“We only want to do what’s necessary,” Barrette said.
The hospital was given high priority by local suppliers of diesel fuel needed to run the generator, and the fuel tank already had been topped off several times by Friday.
One elevator burnt out during the powerless stretch, Barrette said, the result of relay switches that were “cooked” by sporadic power surges. The surges “raise havoc completely throughout the hospital,” he said.
After long hospital hours Friday, Maine Coast medical staff members planned to head for local shelters to check the condition of residents relocated from their homes.
“Lots of people are getting sick because of things they have to do to keep warm and look after their families,” said Dr. Bob Anthony, emergency department medical director at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor. “People are hauling in wood and start getting chest pains.”
He said the hospital has treated a few cases of carbon monoxide poisoning this week, caused by kerosene and other heaters with poor combustion used without proper ventilation. Extreme cases are treated in St. Joseph’s hyperbaric oxygen unit, one of just four in the state.
Eastern Maine Medical Center opened its doors Friday to people with health problems facing hardship because of the storm, like residents dependent on oxygen who lost electrical power. They were asked to bring their prescriptions and medical equipment to EMMC with them. Call 262-3112 or 973-8000 for information.
The Red Cross blood supply, always low after the holidays, had reached critical levels by Friday.
“We count on this period to rebound, but you can’t rebound when people can’t move,” said Martha Wildman, donor recruitment representative.
Emergency blood drives are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Monday at the donor center, 900 Hammond St. Donors are welcome from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Army Reserve Center on Hildreth Avenue in Bangor.