« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Patrick Springer, Published March 12 2010

Hospitals, care centers make evacuation plans

Hospitals and nursing homes in Fargo-Moorhead are well along in drafting contingency plans in the event major flooding strikes again this spring.

Administrators said they’re better prepared than last year in the event river levels force evacuations, as happened last year.

In fact, because of the longer lead time and experience gained from last year, some administrators believe it’s less likely that evacuations would become necessary this year.

Protection against floodwaters isn’t the only concern at health centers, which need water, sanitation and electrical services to serve patients and residents.

“I think there’s greater confidence we aren’t going anywhere,” said Kris Olson, a vice president at Innovis Health, which last year did not have to evacuate. “We have the added benefit of time and experience.”

Because it is on relatively high ground, evacuation is more of a remote possibility. The greater concern, Olson said, is the possibility the public wouldn’t be able to access the hospital.

“It’s the access to us that would get cut off,” she said. “Worst-case scenario, we could be an island unto ourselves.”

MeritCare, which had to evacuate hospital patients last year, has stockpiled medical supplies, food and generator fuel, Dennis Millirons, the medical center’s president, said.

“We have covered, I think, just about every item that allows us to operate in an emergency mode,” he said.

A Red River level of 40 feet – last year’s record crest was 40.84 feet – will trigger key decisions at MeritCare Medical Center.

“If it does get above 40 feet, we have critical decisions to make about the potential for an evacuation,” Millirons said. “We’d be watching very, very closely.”

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fargo has a floodwall that goes to 45 feet on the Red River, but areas near the medical complex are not as well protected.

Round-the-clock dike- watch patrols start at 38 feet.

Last year, the VA evacuated patients to St. Cloud and Minneapolis and treated outpatients at two mobile units parked outside Innovis.

“We’re hoping it won’t be necessary this year,” spokeswoman Peggy Wheeldon said.

Villa Maria, a 140-bed nursing home on South University Drive in Fargo, is prepared to function without city services, if required, for six or eight days.

In the event an evacuation becomes necessary, it has arrangements with sister facilities around North Dakota, president Michael Pfeifer said.

Bethany Retirement Living, located near downtown Fargo and in southwest Fargo, is making contingency plans to move residents to sponsor churches in West Fargo and patients to skilled beds in Grand Forks, if necessary, senior executive Grant Richardson said.

Infrastructure improvements since last year mean the evacuation level at Eventide Retirement Living in Moorhead has increased from 37 to 39 feet on the Red River, said president John Riewer.

Last year, most evacuated residents were placed within 100 miles of Moorhead in Minnesota, but Eventide will do everything possible to avoid another evacuation.

“There’s a full recognition that moves come with their own risks as well,” he said, noting many elderly residents have frail health that makes them vulnerable.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522