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Hospital ready for WMD attack

Eben Harrell

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Aspen Valley Hospital has been quietly stockpiling antibiotics and antidotes for chemical agents in preparation for a potential attack involving weapons of mass destruction.The preparations now make the hospital “one of the most prepared” small hospitals in the country, according to a Denver-based WMD expert.”It’s one of the things I don’t want to advertise that we have,” the hospital’s director of trauma services Bill Rodman said. “I don’t think Aspen is a huge target for a WMD attack. One can never be totally prepared but we are doing our best.”The hospital’s emergency department now has a mobile decontamination shower, HAZMAT suits, and significant stockpiles of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that treats anthrax, as well as other antibiotics. Rodman also confirmed the hospital has antidotes for nerve agents such as sarin and VX gas, but he would not offer specifics.”What I can tell you is that we have ordered equipment and supplies from a medical supply company that is the same one the military uses,” Rodman said. “We have the suggested treatments for agents that we might encounter.”Stephen Kantrill, a representative from the Biological Nuclear Incendiary Chemical Explosive Training Center in Denver, a federally funded center that lectures state hospitals on WMD readiness, visited Aspen Valley Hospital on Oct. 9.Kantrill’s lectured medical staff on how to recognize and treat weaponized diseases including anthrax, plague, and smallpox. Treatments for chemical weapons such as sarin and VX, and more rudimentary agents such as ammonia and cyanide, were also addressed.”I found the folks in Aspen really quite knowledgeable,” Kantrill said. “Colorado as a whole is one of the leaders in WMD readiness. But I’d say you guys are probably a lot better off than most hospitals in the state and probably a lot better off than most hospitals in the country.”Kantrill said Aspen’s WMD readiness helps the hospital prepare for other disasters as well. The decontamination shower, for example, can be used to treat chemical spills and industrial accidents. And learning to treat an unexpected outbreak helps prepare for potential emerging diseases.”It’s all connected,” Kantrill said. “We saw how WMD readiness helped during the SARS outbreak. AVH’s preparation can be used against a host of emerging diseases, such as avian flu.”Rodman says the hospital will continue its preparation. The emergency department has planned an emergency drill simulating chemical attacks for later this fall.”From a homeland security concept we do have high profile visitors here. For a low investment we’ve made prudent moves to help ensure our community’s safety,” Rodman said.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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