Sickly sewer

Surrounded by plastic-covered walls, a repair crew has been working around the clock since Sunday evening to fix a sewer leak that forced the closure of three departments at Whidbey General Hospital.

It looks like their efforts are going to pay off as the crew is right on schedule and should be finished in time for the Surgery Department, Critical Care Unit and Whidbey Family Birthplace to open sometime Thursday morning.

“It’s going real well,” said Steve Harris, excavation supervisor for Roto-Rooter, the company hired by the hospital to repair the sewer pipe.

He said the repair crews are working 24 hours a day to repair the pipe. After sealing off the work area with large plastic sheets, crews spent Sunday evening and most of Monday cutting through the concrete floor and digging down to the pipe.

As of Monday evening, about 12 feet of pipe was exposed.

Harris said he hopes to have most of the work completed today so the new line can be tested before the wing re-opens.

Hospital officials discovered the leaky pipe Aug. 2 during routine maintenance of the sewer system. They spent the following week rescheduling patients and finding a company to repair the pipe.

The hospital board declared the sewer leak an emergency situation during its Monday evening board meeting. This allowed the hospital administration to award Roto-Rooter the $60,000 contract without going through a bidding process.

The administration did bring in two other companies for estimates last week. One company wouldn’t do the work for the money offered and the other couldn’t meet the administration’s time frame, said Tom Tomasino, chief information officer at Whidbey General Hospital.

An architect specializing in hospitals and infection control was brought in Aug. 8 to see if the repair work could be done and keep the three departments open, but it was determined it was better to close those departments during the repair work.

When the leak was discovered, early predictions of the closure ran as high as 10 days and patients were rescheduled according to that deadline.

“We took the worse case scenario and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best,” said Judy Moore, chief nursing executive at the hospital.

When the departments re-open tomorrow, Moore said that patients will be rescheduled again.

It looks like most of the patients have been going along with the rescheduling, said Paul Zavaruha, a surgeon at the hospital who was acting chief of staff during the board meeting.

Most of the business the hospital has been losing out on comes from unexpected and emergency cases, Moore said.

The hospital doesn’t yet know the financial impact of the four-day closure.

Doug Bishop, chief financial officer at the hospital, said nonpatient-care employees are encouraged to take some time off during the closure in an attempt to save costs.

The hospital does have business interruption insurance. The administration has to meet with the insurance officials to determine if the hospital qualifies for any compensation.

Hospital administrators don’t know if insurance will cover the $60,000 in repairs. One thing is for sure, the pipe itself is not covered, Tomasino said. If the break in the pipe was sudden and accidental, then the hospital could get compensation for damage caused by the leak.

You can reach Nathan Whalen at or 675-6611.

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