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Bennington hospital saves water, delivers care to Wilmington

August 30, 2011

Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Officials at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center said the hospital has made adjustments to its practices to help conserve water and has rearranged staff to provide medical services to residents stuck in the Deerfield Valley.

Spokesman Kevin Robinson said Incident Command Staff have been monitoring the situation in Bennington and Windham Counties since 10 a.m. Sunday and keeping in contact with town and state emergency management officials.

A water shortage caused by the breaking of a water main carrying potable water to Bennington from the town’s water filtration plant in Woodford is a major issue. Providing medical services to the Wilmington area, where the hospital operates the only medical practice, is also a major concern, he said.

Robinson said the hospital is taking steps to prepare for reduced water pressure or a loss of water. He said the facility is hoping to reduce its 75,000-gallon daily usage by at least half.

“Our estimate is that we can cut our water use in half. We may be able to cut it further,” he said.

Bennington residents must also conserve, however, Robinson said.

“Water conservation in Bennington is not about convenience. This is really important for this community at the moment. It’s really important that people do everything they can to conserve water for this community,” he said.

All elective and endoscopy services at the hospital will be canceled as of Wednesday. He said hospital officials will review when those services can resume on a day-to-day basis.

All renal dialysis patients are being sent to the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass., and the Rutland Regional Medical Center starting today, Robinson said.

Additional efforts to conserve water include:

  • Closing bathrooms that do not have water conserving toilets or fixtures
  • Shutting off drinking fountains, ice machines and water coolers in staff areas
  • Switching to waterless patient care products, such as waterless hand sanitizer
  • Where possible, minimizing bathing of patients
  • Shutting off birthing tubs.
  • Using disposable dishes for patients as well as staff.
  • Limiting use of in-house laundry whenever possible.
  • Discontinuing all non-essential water-based cleaning of rooms and facilities.

Additional water supplies for the hospital were being secured Tuesday evening. Robinson said at least one tanker and bottled war were on the way.

“We’re lining up at least one multi-thousand gallon tanker that should be here late tomorrow morning for us,” he said.

Efforts are also underway to ensure adequate medical care is available in the Wilmington area. Robinson all major highways into Wilmington are impassable, making the closest hospital to the area at least an hour away. He said the hospital was working Tuesday with physicians, emergency management agencies and town officials to provide urgent care in the area.

“Right now, any hospital care that needs to be provided is going south to North Adams [Mass.] because that’s the only route that’s open,” Robinson said.

Hospital staff and three regular physicians at the Deerfield Valley Campus in Wilmington are working longer hours to ensure access to medical care. The Wilmington facility will be open for extended hours and is on-call for urgent care, according to Robinson.

Additionally, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, the parent company of the Bennington hospital and Wilmington campus, has provided staff for medical care at the Red Cross shelter in Wilmington, and is sending regular shipments of supplies to Wilmington.

“At least once a day we send a car or truck with supplies over to them. Our goal is to keep providing medical care at that facility despite the infrastructure challenges at this time,” Robinson said.

The Medical Reserve Corp. of Southwestern Vermont, created by the hospital and local and state health officials following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is also being called up. Robinson said the group of volunteers are trained and supplied to provide medical assistance during disasters.

As a precautionary measure, SVHC has planned for the possibility of the hospital losing all water. Robinson said losing water for along period of time would require patient evacuation.

“We do not believe that we’re in a situation where we need to evacuate. We’ve been in constant contact with the town and they have assured us we are a top priority,” he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at

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