Mercy Hospital officials are urging patients and the general public to be aware of restrictions and increased security on the day of the Highway 47 bridge implosion.
With the close proximity to the bridge and the sensitivity of equipment and patient care, Director of Support Services for the Washington facility Bill Hellebusch says the staff is taking all efforts to make the implosion as exciting and nondisruptive as possible.
“We want to make it fun, but we can’t allow it to affect patient safety,” he said. “If you are in the building that day, you will know the implosion is about to happen and it will not sneak up on anybody. We are one of only 12 entities that will have a radio in direct contact with the wrecking crew.”
Hellebusch said the morning of the blast, which has been delayed at least one week due to the rising river level, multiple announcements will be made over the hospital intercom to alert patients, staff and visitors the blast is imminent and the actual countdown will be announced live as well.
“We have had a ton of people ask to watch the implosion from here,” he said. “We want to stress that we are not a public viewing spot for the demolition.”
Hellebusch added Mercy officials prefer people not come to the hospital campus that day if they don’t need to.
“I grew up in Washington and I think the demolition is a big deal,” he said. “We understand the hospital will have front row seats and I want to see it myself.”
Although the hospital itself is just outside the exclusion zone, parking lots and streets around the facility will be closed earlier in the morning of the blast day and all staff and visitors will have to be inside the building.
The sensitivity of operations inside the hospital are, of course, different from any other facility in town and plans have been discussed to keep the hospital running smoothly before, during and after the demolition.
“We’ve talked a lot about the sensitivity and expense of some of our equipment,” Hellebusch said. “The MRI machines in particular. Also, there may be surgeries or other procedures being conducted at the same time the blast is scheduled. We’ve been assured we will feel little to no ground vibration from the explosion. It should be about as loud as a close lightning strike and thunder.”
Hellebusch feels the advanced planning and communications will pay off that morning.
“We aren’t scheduling around it, but we want to remind those who may have appointments to be here 30 to 45 minutes earlier due to road closures,” he said. “This is especially true for those coming from the north side of the river.”
He added after the blast when roads are reopened, the hospital security and staff are preparing for an influx of visitors who were not allowed in during the exclusion.
“We will have a full compliment of our security staff here that day,” Hellebusch said. “In fact, we will be calling in more security that day.”
The final pre-blast meeting is scheduled for a few days before the demolition. After that meeting, Hellebusch said he will communicate last minute plans to the hospital staff.
The Mercy emergency room will remain open to ambulance traffic the day of the blast and procedures will be in place to ensure any emergency vehicle traffic will be allowed easy access to the facility despite road closures to the public.
Hellebusch said because of the hospital’s direct communication with the wrecking crew and other entities on the day of the blast, Mercy will be able to delay the blast and get roads or airspace opened if there is a life critical emergency during the scheduled closures.
In addition to normal emergency operations, Hellebusch said procedures are in place in the event something goes wrong during the demolition, resulting in a mass casualty incident (MCI).
“We won’t necessarily be calling in extra emergency staff that day,” he said. “In our standard MCI planning we have processes in place to get needed staff and resources here to the hospital very quickly.”
The blast exclusion zone for demolition day is 1,500 feet, which falls near the middle of the intersection of Highway 47 and Third Street.
“The city of Washington has done a great job keeping us informed,” Hellebusch said. “It has put us in a position that we feel very prepared.”
As with the sensitive imaging equipment, Hellebush said they have been assured the concussion felt from the blast at the hospital will be minimal to none.
There is, however, the slight risk of flying debris.
“The 1,500 feet is a very conservative exclusion zone,” he said. “It is probably more like 200 to 300 feet for shrapnel.”
Some of the Mercy parking lots are within the 1,500-foot radius and staff using them will have to be inside the building by 9 a.m. that day.