gird for hell
N.Y. hospitals advance their ER care in terror times
By PAUL H.B. SHIN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Trauma centers are undergoing a quiet revolution in the age of terrorism. Operating rooms that open directly to a helipad. Ambulance bays equipped with showers to wash down patients doused in toxins. Triage rooms with inward air flow so poisonous fumes or deadly germs will not spread in the hospital.
These are just some of the many doomsday features that major trauma centers in New York have quietly built into their emergency rooms in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the anthrax scares of 2001.
Though the changes may not be as visible as the fortified security at airports, experts say they have vastly improved the area's ability to respond to disasters - natural and man-made.
"One of the things we have to think about now is mass casualties," said Dr. Timothy Haydock, head of emergency medicine at Westchester Medical Center, where Gov. Pataki dedicated a new trauma center Thursday.
The hospital's new $147 million wing in Valhalla incorporates the latest thinking on how to build emergency departments to deal with terrorism.
There's an operating room that opens to the outdoors - so a patient tainted with germs, chemicals or radiation need not be wheeled through the emergency ward.
Awareness of such hazards appears even in little details, such as a medical supply cabinet for a recovery room that can be stocked from the outside.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan also has made major renovations to its trauma center, and it plans to begin construction of a 12,000- to 18,000-square-foot emergency wing in the next few months.
"In New York City, where you're boxed in on every side, you're very restricted in terms of how you can expand," said Dr. Neal Flomenbaum, chief physician for the hospital's emergency department.
But that has not stopped the hospital from overhauling its trauma center.
"We've gone so far as to identify and designate areas that can function as an emergency department should the main emergency department become contaminated," Flomenbaum said.
Another feature now standard for trauma centers is an outdoor decontamination tent equipped with showers to handle more than six people at time.
"This is a huge difference from what our capacity was before 9/11," said Dr. James Kenny, associate director of emergency medicine at the Staten Island University Hospital.
In addition to brick-and-mortar changes, disaster drills paid off in a big way last October, when the trauma center was flooded with victims of the Staten Island ferry crash.
"Because of the training, we were able to gear up extremely quickly," Kenny said.