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Unplowed roads dangerous for storm patients

Updated 12:32 am, Wednesday, February 13, 2013
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The weekend blizzard left the usual rash of storm-related injuries and illnesses in its wake -- car accidents, heart attacks, asthma attacks, falls and carbon monoxide exposure, among them.

But an even bigger problem for many patients were the obstacles they faced getting to the hospital, and in some cases, getting back home.

During and after the blizzard that dumped nearly three feet of snow in the region, emergency responders had a difficult time reaching those in need of urgent medical care.

In the midst of the storm, ambulance drivers struggled to keep pace with the rapidly falling snow, said Bill Schietinger, general manager of Bridgeport-Fairfield American Medical Response.

Although Bridgeport roads were plowed during the early part of the storm Friday, Schietinger said, blizzard conditions meant that even plowed roads didn't stay clear for long.

"Even if we could get to the patient, getting them to the hospital was a challenge," Schietinger said.

Once the snowfall stopped, leaving many Bridgeport roads packed with drifts, helping those in need became even more difficult. Many streets in Bridgeport were unplowed for days.

Schietinger said he has heard many horror stories from workers, some of whom had to carry patients up to two miles from their home to the ambulance.

"One ambulance got stuck (on Yale Street) and the crew was in there all day," Schietinger said.

To his knowledge, workers were eventually able to reach most people who called for help.

But Dr. Rock Ferrigno, Bridgeport Hospital's acting chairman of emergency medicine, said the hospital hasn't seen its usual heavy influx of post-snowstorm cases, and he largely blames the impassable roads.

"Usually when it snows, the next day, we see four heart attacks," Ferrigno said. But with this storm, "We're not seeing the outpouring of patients to the hospital yet. Most people can't even get to the hospital."

For a while, roads near the region's hospitals were difficult to access.

Dr. Stuart Zarich, Bridgeport Hospital's chief of cardiac medicine, said he heard stories of hospital staff plowing out the area around the hospital so ambulances could reach it.

The roads have also created a sort of "Hotel California" situation for some, making it impossible for patients to leave the hospital and go home.

And yet, patients aren't the only ones having a tough time getting in and out of the hospital, Zarich said.

"One doctor snowshoed in from his house," he said. "Another doctor stayed here three consecutive days."

Experts said falls, heart attacks and carbon monoxide exposure are among the more common snow-linked health problems they've seen.

There have been 30 suspected carbon monoxide exposures reported to the Connecticut Poison Control Center since the storm began, said Amy Hanoian-Fontana, community education specialist for the center.

She said the majority of exposures happened in cars where the tailpipe hadn't been fully cleared of snow.

In Meriden, two residents age 18 and 20, were found dead Sunday, apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It's so sad and so preventable," Hanoian-Fontana said.

acuda@ctpost.com;203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth

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