Hospital rooms to be latex, chemical-free

Concerned about a growing number of latex and chemical allergies among its patients and staff, Whidbey General Hospital will increase the number of allergen-free examination, treatment, and surgery suites.

Elaine Carty, the hospital’s coordinator for infection control and employee health and safety, said this week the hospital will establish at least two latex-free rooms in the building’s ambulatory care center, which is being remodeled this winter. Those rooms will be added to three that already exist at the Coupeville facility, one each in emergency, critical care, and surgery.

Carty said the hospital is taking latex allergies and chemical sensitivity seriously, because both can be life threatening to a person who comes to the hospital with a severe illness or injury. In the chemical-free rooms, hospital personnel use vinyl gloves instead of latex and are are under strict guidelines for using shampoos, detergents, perfumes, and other hygiene products.

“We’re trying to be as chemically aware as we can,” she said.

People with latex allergies who come into contact with the material can experience skin irritation similar to exposure to poison ivy, and can suffer respiratory symptoms if latex become airborne, as it does on the powder used in packages of latex gloves.

Clinton resident Lori O’Neal, a member of the Whidbey Island Chemically Injured Network, said the hospital has gone out of its way to keep patients with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) safe. She said Carty has attended several of the group’s monthly meetings and has offered MCS sufferers real protection with the chemical free rooms.

“We’re just really grateful (hospital administrator) Scott Rhine is sending Elaine to our meetings,” she said.

In addition to the controlling chemicals inside the hospital, Whidbey General has also asked local florists to try to keep latex products out of flower arrangements sent to the hospital.

Carty encourages patients with chemical or latex allergies to warn hospital staff when they enter the hospital. Even if none of the latex-free rooms are available when a patient arrives, the hospital has a number of latex-free medical equipment carts it can take to any room in the building.

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