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Hospital DNC Preps - Fort Collins Now

September 02, 2008
Are you ready? That’s the question Chris Colwell has heard a lot lately. In fact, it’s probably a reoccurring one that he has even asked himself as hypothetical emergency scenarios have played over and over in his mind. It seems like a simple enough question, but Colwell knows the weight that such a question carries when it comes to medical care. Colwell, wearing many hats within emergency services in Denver, has spent the last year and a half preparing for the Democratic National Convention and the impact it will have on hospitals in Colorado. And ready or not, the DNC is finally upon him. “The answer is yes we are, but I don’t want to say we are ready for anything,” Colwell said. “No matter what, there are certainly situations that no one can be prepared for.” As the associate director of the department of emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center and medical director for Denver paramedic division and Denver Fire Department, Colwell has played an integral role in developing a state-wide plan for medical coverage during the DNC. A total of 26 hospitals, including Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, have been involved in brainstorming, evaluating disaster plans, practicing drills and developing a DNC communications plan. This past week was dedicated to finalizing schedules and fine-tuning the details. “We have been trying to balance what is reasonable to prepare for and what we will likely be faced with and prepare to up-staff as needed,” Colwell said. Hospitals closest to the Pepsi Center, Invesco Field and other DNC event locations—which include Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital, Denver Health, Presbyterian-Saint Luke’s Medical Center and Saint Anthony Central Hospital—will be impacted the most, however call lists were created for possible overflow situations. “It increases our success rate because we are all part of the same team,” said Brad Steininger, safety officer at Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital. “Knowing other people have your back is comforting.” Tim Klippert, emergency preparedness coordinator for Poudre Valley Health Systems, said he won’t be surprised if some of the hospital traffic extends up at PVH and MCR because of the number of people visiting the state. For that reason, staff will be increased a bit. Still, he said it’s tough to predict how much of an influx there will be. PVH and MCR will report bed counts to the Denver hospitals twice a day throughout the week. In addition, each morning will start out with a conference call with all of the hospitals involved. “We will definitely be in the loop of what’s happening,” Klippert said. “We are just making sure we have a robust communications plan for the whole thing.” Steininger said Denver hospitals have had multiple conversations with hospitals in Boston, where the 2004 DNC was held, to get an idea of what can be expected during the convention. He said Saint Joseph Hospital will probably see about a 10-15 percent increase in emergency department visits, but that is only an estimation. Colwell said the increase in volume could be as high as 30 percent, but agreed that it is tough to project. At Denver Health, as well as other Denver hospitals, all vacations have been canceled for next week. All departments will increase staffing to one degree or another. There will be 19 emergency physicians handing what is normally handled by eight at Denver Health. In addition, physicians and emergency nurses will be based at the Pepsi Center and Invesco, as well as roving the surrounding areas. Denver Paramedics will practically double the number of ambulances on the streets to 28. And with all the after parties and nightlife, Denver CARES, Denver Health’s Comprehensive Addictions Rehabilitation and Evaluation Services, will also be vamping up its coverage. About six Denver CARES vehicles, double the usual number, will be out and about picking up inebriates and transporting them to the CARES facility. The vehicles have six isolated compartments for transporting individuals. Everyone will be treated the same, whether it’s a sports celebrity or a local who’s had too much to drink. “There’s not going to be VIP care,” Colwell said. “If someone is too intoxicated they will go to Denver CARES.” Overindulging at the bars is one of the scenarios that Colwell can count on happening during the DNC. Others include people suffering from dehydration and high altitude. “We know that’s going to happen. ... We know there will be some protests and some that will go beyond what most protests do. We know there will be attempts to disrupt the whole process. Whether police use methods that require medical attention or protesters use methods that require medical attention, it’s likely to happen,” he said. “Then there’s the unknown.” The “unknown” could include large-scale disasters or terrorist attacks. “Specifically, we do not know what high-risk events may or may not occur,” said Steininger, the safety officer at Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital. Colwell said the DNC has been a wonderful opportunity for hospitals and EMS to update disaster plans so they can be ready for as much as possible, regardless of the situation. It will also help strengthen services in the future. With practices and drills behind them, hospital staff hope the DNC will be more uneventful. “The cliché of planning for the worst and hoping for the best is fitting,” Colwell said. “There’s a lot of possibilities. ... If I were asked if it’s likely or not likely that we will have to go into disaster mode, I would say it would be very unlikely, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”