Chemical Exposure Provides Vital Training

At 8:30 a.m. this morning, Kona Community Hospital was exposed to a chemical agent called Xylene in the Emergency Department (ED). When the odor was detected, proactive measures were put in place to ensure patients, families of patients and employees were safe. An Incident Command Center was immediately established, the appropriate organizations were contacted and instructions to transfer Emergency Room patients to other units were made. Simultaneously, the Acute Care Module (ACM) was put together which provided another area for patients to be cared for in case it was needed.

It was determined that the chemical was being properly transferred from one container to another and the air flow brought the agent into the Emergency Department. There is no source since it is a vapor and it becomes odorless after time. When employees detected the odor and developed symptoms such as dizziness and difficulty breathing they instantly contacted hospital management.

Approximately 30 people were exposed to the chemical with immediate treatment to this specific type of contact being oxygen therapy. Currently, the hospital has six patients from the ED and seven employees undergoing this treatment with no serious or life-threatening conditions.

By 10:15 a.m., the HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials Team) officially declared the hospital clear of chemical exposure and it was deemed safe. For additional precaution, the ED area was closed to ensure more ventilation and cleaning took placed before patients and employees were able to go into this unit. Patients that were seeking emergency room treatment were directed to a newly established triage area to determine whether or not to provide care at the hospital or another facility.

“We are fortunate that our hospital was able to make decisions quickly and have skilled and knowledgeable people in place before it became too serious,” commented Lance Anderson, Incident Commander and Assistant Administrator at Kona Community Hospital. “Our hospital employees know all about disasters such as the 2006 earthquake. The more we are proactive, the more prepared we are when it really comes time. If any hospital is ready, it is Kona Community Hospital.”

Lisa Downing, Infection Control and Employee Health Nurse Manager, added, “This was great training for us. When situations like this occur, you really have to think fast and make critical decisions. Although this was a real situation, it was a reminder that we must continue to learn and educate ourselves about what we need to do when a crisis occurs.”