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Sewer operation closes hospital wing

Whidbey General Hospital employees have been scrambling for the past week to deal with the closure of three departments while the hospital conducts sewer line repair work.

Starting Sunday evening, the wing that houses the Surgery Department, Critical Care Unit and the Whidbey Family Birthplace will close until Thursday morning, Aug. 14, as a work crew fixes a sewer leak located beneath the wing.

“In the interest of patient safety and comfort ... it’s best not to open it,” said Scott Rhine, CEO of the hospital, emphasizing that all other departments in the hospital will remain open.

The small leak was picked up Aug. 2 during a routine test of sewer pipes and needs to be repaired before it worsens, said Trish Rose, hospital spokesperson.

“We’re just glad that we found it before it became a catastrophic failure,” Rose said.

Rhine said the hospital has been routinely testing the sewer lines for approximately two years.

To fix the leak, workers will have to break through six inches of concrete and tunnel down through six and a half feet of dirt to reach the three inch break in the pipe. Crews also have to replace the waste-sodden dirt.

Roto-Rooter based out of Lynnwood has been hired to do the repairs, which will cost the hospital an estimated $60,000. Crews will begin their work in the wing after the departments close.

Hospital officials had been trying to figure out a way to repair the pipe and keep those departments open. After consulting with an architect specializing in hospitals and infection control, Rhine said it was determined that it’s best to close those departments for several days.

Rhine said the repair crew will still be working when the departments open again Thursday morning. He was unsure how long the repairs would take and would know more when the work crew reaches the damaged pipe.

Because the wing is going to close for four days, employees have been working since Wednesday to reschedule surgeries.

During the closure, Rhine said the emergency room will remain open. Patient, depending on the disease or injury, will be stabilized at the hospital then, if necessary, transferred to a nearby facility.

The closure of three departments comes at a time when the hospital recently made a series of cutbacks and layoffs to deal with revenue shortfalls that occurred in recent months. Rhine said the hospital has $500,000 in its plant fund for emergency situations.

Rhine said he didn’t know how the repairs will effect the hospital’s revenue. He cited the birthing center as an example of the difficulty in predicting impacts of any closure. While the hospital delivers about 18 babies a month he said it’s impossible to break that number down to get a reliable weekly average.

The hospital does have business interruption insurance to help offset the lost money from the shutdown.

Hospital officials has to meet with insurance officials to see if the hospital qualifies for any compensation.

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