Hospital executes winning response to Greater Boston water emergency

A major water main break in Weston, Mass., Saturday sent untreated water flowing into over 30 Greater Boston communities, resulting in a widespread "boil water" order and state of emergency that left residents and businesses scrambling figure out how to handle the problem indefinitely.

But one local business--Massachusetts General Hospital--rose to the occasion in a way all hospitals can learn from. Before many affected residents had even heard the news, MGH deployed its Incident Command System with a meeting attended by more than a dozen top supervisors who oversee everything from operating rooms and food services to the emergency room and housekeeping. The hospital then assembled a team to plan and coordinate the various accommodations to ensure that clinical care and hospital operations proceeded smoothly and safely, and issued a set of recommendations to all of the hospital system's 22,000 staffers throughout more than a dozen off-campus health clinics and research labs.

While several local Dunkin' Donuts shut down and police had to intervene to close the chaos-ridden and water-cleared BJ's in Revere, the mood at Boston's largest hospital yesterday was one of calm adaptation, reports the Boston Globe. Despite the "do not use" signs adorning every tap, water fountain and even the Custom Ultrasonic machine used to disinfect instruments, surgeries went on as scheduled and ambulances continued to arrive with patients.

Fortunately, the hospital had plenty of stockpiled bottled water with more on the way, Jeanette Ives Erickson, senior vice president of patient care and chief nurse, assured staff. But even though the water was considered safe for bathing, the hospital issued "bath-in-a-bag" towelettes to many patients, particularly those who were immunocompromised. In the hospital's basement, several large 60-gallon vats were used to boil water to be cooled and used for food preparation, including washing salads or mixing with soups. However, the commodity was not to be used to prepare coffee or tea.

Workers relied on a different, slower machine using hydrogen peroxide to clean flexible diagnostic probes and other tools, and used a specialized foam to clean their hands; however, officials determined that purified water used for dialysis was safe to use with no modifications.

Public health official said yesterday that the risk of intestinal illness to those who consumed the contaminated water was relatively small, but that they will be monitoring ER surges. As of press time, the pipe repair was holding and residents were told to expect clean drinking water within 48 hours.

To learn more:
- check out this story
- read this Boston Globe article
- check out this Globe story
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