Massena Memorial Hospital officials said more than 50 additional staff members wereat the facility within 20 minutes after receiving word that there had been several injuries Thursday night when a cruise ship crashed into a concrete barrier in Eisenhower Lock.
Massena Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer Robert G. Wollenben said the hospital treated 22 patients - 19 passengers and crew members - Thursday night and early Friday morning. Most of the injured suffered abrasions and contusions or complained of pain, but two patients needed a higher level of care and were transported by Seaway Valley Ambulance to the Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vt.
Some patients required sutures, and several passengers and crew members had x rays and CT scans in an effort to determine the scope of their injuries. Hospital officials said the injuries they saw were consistent with an automobile accident with airbags deployed.
The hospital implemented its disaster plan shortly after 9:30 p.m. T
hursday after receiving an initial report that a cruise ship had been involved in an accident at Eisenhower Lock and was taking on water. They later learned there were well over 200 passengers and crew on the vessel.
Hospital spokesperson Tina Corcoran said 52 staff members - ranging from workers in the registration department to physicians - above normal night staffing levels rushed to Massena Memorial shortly after the accident. She said the medical imaging, radiology, emergency room, and operating room staffs were ready long before the first patients arrived at the hospital.
Mr. Wollenben said two surgical teams and an emergency room team double its normal size were in place when the first patient arrived at 11:15 p.m. Thursday. He said the last patient from the ship left the hospital at 2:50 a.m. Friday.
“We had plenty of staff here. We could have handled a lot more patients,” he noted.
Interim Chief Nursing Executive Ralene North said 29 people were triaged and said treatment was made slightly more difficult by language issues as they assessed the conditions of the ship’s passengers.
But she said interpreters - two members of the Massena Memorial medical staff and two spouses of hospital employees - assisted the passengers and crew members answer questions when they were being treated by hospital staff .
“We placed our interpreters at key places, the emergency room, radiology. We had it pretty well covered,” Mr. Wollenben said.
Kevin S. Ward, director of the hospital’s Medical Laboratory, said passengers told hospital employees they had flown from France to Montreal Wednesday and started their cruise to Toronto Thursday. He said the passengers were primarily senior citizens. “This is day three of their 10-day trip,” he said.
Emergency Department Nursing Director Tammy S. Mitchell said several of the patients indicated they had been eating dinner when they felt the “boom” as the ship hit the concrete barrier that protects the gate at the west end of Eisenhower Lock. “We had people with multiple injuries - abrasions and contusions to their arms, legs, head. They really were great patients,” she said.
“As they entered the emergency department, we determined how critical their injuries were. Some went to the walk in clinic that we opened for the incident; some went right to the ER. Some patients that just needed evaluation were placed in the waiting room, and our providers went out to the waiting room to treat them,” she added.
Hospital staff said they were aided by the efforts on the emergency medical technicians that were on scene at the accident as well as the work of Dr. Nina Marajegias, who went to the locks on her own and went on the cruise ship to assist in the triage of the ship’s passengers and crew as well as provided any necessary medical care. “They were triaged before they arrived at the hospital, and she speaks French too,” Ms. North said.
Mr. Wollenben said the accident showed the hospital was prepared for a major incident. “It was a great job. It was a reminder of why we need to have a hospital in our communities in Northern New York. We took care of people who knew nothing about us when they got here. They found out they didn’t need to be concerned once they got here,” he noted.
Mark P. Brouillette, senior director of Professional and Practice Management/Ancillary Services, said the incident came just a few weeks after staff completed a multi-day disaster drill at the hospital. “We found our emergency plan to be quite sufficient. We will use this disaster to continue to refine our plan,” he said.
Mr. Wollenben acknowledged the next stage in the process will be billing for the medical care provided to the ship’s passengers. “We have been in contact with an on-shore agent in Clayton. We’re waiting for further information on that. We’re taking our lead from the on-shore agent. But billing was the last thing on our minds last night. All of these things get taken care of. Just another regular day at Massena Memorial Hospital. Great people doing great work,” he said.