Fumes from a pesticide brought in by a patient Monday cleared out part of the Emergency Room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam and prompted a review of policies Tuesday.
Amsterdam police reported a patient ingested malathion before calling for an ambulance about 2 p.m. and bringing a sample along for the ride. Hazardous materials specialists told police malathion is an agricultural pesticide also used to control mosquitoes and head lice.
The sample caused a “significant” odor to waft through part of the Emergency Department and staff initiated a hazardous materials response, hospital spokeswoman Jerri Cortese said. The hospital diverted ambulances away from its Guy Park Avenue facility and evacuated between 15 and 30 people, including patients and family members, to other rooms.
“Not knowing what the substance is, you don’t want to take the chance,” Cortese said.
The incident took place during a shift change, so workers leaving a daytime shift were able to stay longer to help shift equipment to other rooms.
Though ambulances were diverted elsewhere, walk-in patients were still arriving, and they were taken to nearby rooms to be checked out, Cortese said.
“That part of the emergency department didn’t stop at all,” she explained.
“It took a lot of teamwork and a lot of movement.”
The hospital eventually learned late Monday the harmful effects of the poison couldn’t be transmitted through the air but rather through direct skin contact or by ingesting it. The hospital brought in specialized contractors who undertook an “extraordinary cleaning” of the emergency department, Cortese said.
The Emergency Room was back in full operation by 5 a.m. Tuesday and ambulances were allowed to return just after 8 a.m., she said.
Patients aren’t frisked before they get into the hospital, and it’s unclear how or if the incident could have been prevented, Cortese said.
“There are a lot of questions that we want to be able to answer,” she said.
She said a debriefing process began Tuesday in which hospital officials would retrace everybody’s steps and determine how the smelly situation played out. It may prompt a change or the creation of a policy to deal with patients who bring in a substance that affected them.
“Now we know we need one; this is not a typical incident in the emergency department,” Cortese said.