April 08, 2020

Health concerns grow

BANGOR — Poisoning from carbon monoxide, danger from overheated fireplaces and chimneys, and storm-related exhaustion moved to the top of the worry list this weekend for medical experts and volunteers managing public safety.

Efforts to build up a dangerously low Red Cross blood supply were disappointing, prompting an all-day drive Monday, and some officials pleaded for residents to take the state of emergency more seriously.

“People don’t seem to have a clue what a state of emergency means,” said Winterport Fire Chief Stan Bowden. “It’s not safe to go out and walk around with power lines on the ground.”

Bowden also expressed “grave concern” about residents using their fireplaces for heat without a break for days on end. Bricks and mortar can grow hot enough to ignite nearby wood, he said, and did just that at several area homes this weekend.

“People are asking for house fires,” the fire chief cautioned. “If you can do nothing else, go to a shelter.”

In Bangor, 240 people did sleep over at the National Guard base Saturday night, an increase of 50 beds over Friday night, said shelter manager Bill Reed of the Pine Tree Red Cross. At the town office in Orono, 75 residents camped out, and others found heat and light at the University of Maine field house.

Shelter workers said soda and bedding were in short supply. Some called in local entertainers to relieve boredom Saturday night, while Milford residents who sought shelter at the Lewis Libby School enjoyed access to the library.

But many Mainers resolved to brave power outages at home, a choice that caused some problems when backup plans backfired.

A spokesman at the Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield said an elderly woman was treated for dizziness and nausea after reportedly using a gas stove to heat her home. In Waterville, several elderly residents had to be taken into protective custody and brought to shelters.

“They just don’t want to leave,” Waterville police dispatcher Kempton Wakefield said. “Some of them were in a disorientated state when they picked them up.”

Dr. Erik Steele, emergency services administrator at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, encouraged people to check on older neighbors and those with chronic illnesses. “There are a lot of stubborn people out there,” he said.

The hospital was busy all weekend caring for people who did take advantage of their open-door policy for all with medical needs, including elderly people dependent on electrically powered equipment. Call 973-8000 or 262-3112 for information.

Some EMMC patients who would have been discharged in normal conditions, such as new mothers with infants, were kept on at the hospital if they had “no good place to go home to,” Steele said.

Slips, falls and car accidents were other problems, along with a buildup of less serious patients from doctor’s offices that have been closed for days. St. Joseph Hospital administrators reported several cases of hypothermia and some more basic needs — a sympathetic ear, a hot meal.

“There are some very, very hungry and anxious people out there,” Sister Mary Romuald, a hospital vice president, said.

The hospital’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber, used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, was getting “quite a bit of use,” she said. Symptoms include headache, nausea and dizziness, and the condition can be avoided by opening windows to give ventilation to kerosene and other makeshift heaters.

Steele warned that alcohol and exhaustion add risks to storm survival, and both should be avoided. “If you’re out there with a chain saw, it’s not a good time to be drinking or tired,” he said.

Blood drives Saturday and Sunday did little to alleviate a desperate shortage, and the Red Cross will try again today by opening the Hammond Street donor center from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The center will also be open noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

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