SARANAC LAKE - The base of a chimney servicing the boiler room at Adirondack Medical Center collapsed March 22, forcing the evacuation of 35 patients.
Initial reports indicated an explosion had taken place, but AMC president and chief executive officer Chandler M. Ralph later stated a partial collapse of the chimney that served as an exhaust for the two main heating boilers caused the disruption.
The incident occurred at 10 a.m. last Sunday, rocking the building and giving officials the initial impression an explosion had taken place.
As a result, a section of the chimney was dismantled and a new flue was installed, allowing heat to be restored to the medical center complex March 24.
Ralph said the decision to evacuate patients was made based on the projected loss of heat and hot water for at least two days at the facility.
"Respecting patients is our number one priority," Ralph said. "The decision was made to evacuate patients to nearby hospitals in Plattsburgh, Malone, AMC-Lake Placid and AMC-Uihlein nursing home."
Hospital staff received assistance from Franklin, Essex and Clinton county ambulance squads in transporting patients. A single patient was transported by advance life support. Ralph said the patient was using a respirator.
"Although this was a dangerous situation, staff reacted immediately to safeguard each and every patient," Ralph said. "The incident command system was extremely effective and, as usual, all staff was on board to assist in these efforts, including area rescue squads and vendors assisting us in repairing the damage."
The cause of the collapse is still unknown, although staff and engineers at the hospital are launching an in-house investigation.
"This was a real freak accident," Ralph added. "We will get to the bottom of this and make sure it never happens again."
Ralph said patients will be evaluated for safe return to AMC, and said, if necessary, hospital staffers will be sent to other medical facilities if patients are in need of specialized care.
The emergency department remained open throughout the incident, as did outpatient services, physical therapy and the radiology department.
According to AMC chief financial officer Patrick Facteau, insurance will cover the cost of the repairs needed at the facility.