Ready or Not
Hank Investigates: Ready or Not
In these practice drills, hospital emergency workers know it's not a real chemical contamination, not a real bioterrorism attack, not a real radioactive dirty bomb… What is real, they know that the clock ticking on the continuing threat.
Zachary Goldfarb, Emergency Management Expert
"Clearly they need to be ready and no one can say what that time frame is."
But our investigation found that some Massachusetts hospitals admit they're not ready. They're short on equipment, short on training and short on money.
The wrong person walks in to the ER, contagious or contaminated, and the entire hospital is at risk.
"It's certainly a matter of life or death for anyone who is exposed or potentially exposed."
After the Tokyo sarin gas attack, September 11, anthrax, SARS, Iraq -- hospitals had to gear up for their part in the war against terrorism. But when state officials checked on emergency preparedness last year, they got some scary answers. Three out of four hospitals, for instance, did not have any of this personal protective gear. It’s now more than a year later.
Hank Phillippi Ryan, Investigative Reporter
"Do they have it now?"
Paul Wingle, Mass Hospital Assoc.
"They don't all have the equipment now."
What is more, some hospitals tell us they don't even know exactly what they're supposed to have. Beverly Hospital bought one decontamination unit… is that enough? How big a pharmaceutical stockpile do they need? How much protective gear? There are no federal or state standards.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"Right now is there any specific way for you to know if a hospital is ready or not?"
Barbara McCarthy, Beverly Hospital
State and federal officials tell us a checklist is in the works, but until it's ready, hospitals are literally left guessing.
Without a checklist like that, how would hospitals know if they are ready or not?
Paul Wingle, Mass Hospitals Assoc.
"It's hard for them to know."
The result -- fear on the frontlines.
Debra Rigiero, RN, Intensive Care Unit
"I think we need the answers. I think we're a little bit behind the eight ball on this."
Even the toughest staffers worry, could their ER soon look like this?
Patty Healy, RN, Intensive Care Unit
"We really don't feel prepared to recognize and care for victims of a variety of threats that are out there."
In a fire, a plane crash, a natural disaster -- highly trained health care teams triage and treat multiple casualties, but those victims won't be contagious.
Dr. Steven Krendel, ER Physician
"You've had a lot of health care workers dropping dead from trying to rush in and take care of people without appropriate precautions, so it is a big concern."
And hospital administrators are worried too. We obtained results of one training company's just-completed preparedness survey. Of the local hospitals questioned, 79 percent said they're "not very prepared" to handle mass decontamination, 83 percent said they're "not very prepared" to identify a bio threat. Here's why -- more than half say they don't have the money.
Steven Bryant, HC Pro
"Without funding and resources it’s really jeopardizing the potential safety of our population."
It's a system already burdened with nursing shortages, budget cuts, ER closings… The new threats, experts say, push it to critical condition.
Deb Rigiero, RN, Intensive Care Unit
"When I walk through that door, I wonder what am I going to face in today's world… I'm concerned that we're not prepared."
Some hospitals are counting on the state's new mobile decontamination units to back them up in an emergency. Massachusetts is also asking the feds for millions more in emergency funding. Officials are hoping the aid will do directly to hospitals.