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Hospital Fire Aftermath Marked by Recovery and Restoration

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, April 14, 2010

When hospitals think about a fire, it's often in terms of the immediate response to keep patients, staff, and visitors safe.

But for a Maine hospital, the recovery phase became the real story following a recent blaze at a medical practice building.

The fire caused an estimated $6 million to $9 million in damage at the Franklin Health Medical Arts Center in Farmington, ME, which is located 30 yards from Franklin Memorial Hospital and connected to the main building by an enclosed corridor.

Investigators are looking at the building's boilers, chimney, and related placement of roof trusses for clues about an exact cause.

The three-story Medical Arts Center is divided into a trio of sections: east and west wings and a central lobby. The fire did the most damage to the east wing, which needs a new roof, said Gerald Cayer, Franklin's Health's executive vice president.

The surgery and urology practices located directly under the fire scene were significantly damaged. The destruction generally was lesser on lower levels. The east wing could be out of service until the fall, Cayer said.

Finding space quickly for ousted practices

Immediately following the fire, the hospital had to relocate urology, general surgery, OB/GYN, pediatrics, and orthopedics to other buildings while officials surveyed the damage to the Medical Arts Center.

"You scramble [to find space]," Cayer said. Franklin Memorial Hospital is a community medical center licensed for 70 beds.

Urology and general surgery, which were housed in the heavily damaged east wing, relocated to available space within the main hospital. Pediatrics, which was also in the east wing, went back to an empty space that it previously occupied before moving to the Medical Arts Center.

"We had extra space that we were able to bring up," Cayer said. "It took a couple of days to figure all of this out."

One concern with relocating surgery practices is the need for alternate locations to feature adequate sinks and plumbing to handle procedures, Cayer adds.

On February 8, a little more than one week after the fire, the hospital reopened the lobby and west wing, allowing for the resumption of services for OB/GYN and orthopedics.

"We got everything taken care of in a very fast fashion," said Jill Gray, community relations manager for the hospital.

Just prior to reopening the lobby and west wing, the hospital hired an air quality testing firm. "We just wanted to make sure … that the air was clean" for employees and patients, Cayer said.

Hospitals officials were not only worried about smoke residue in the air, but also whether there were any lingering remnants of the cleaning products that had been used. The Medical Arts Building got a clean bill for air quality.

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