WDAY: The News Leader

Published February 26, 2010, 02:46 PM

Meritcare, City of Fargo work together to avoid evacuation rush

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - After mass evacuations last spring, Meritcare now believes it's in a better position this flood fight. Hospital administrators cite the Sanford Health merger as one of the reasons patients will likely be more protected.

By: Travis Skonseng, WDAY

Meritcare has been planning for the flood for about one month. It's been working closely with the city of Fargo to avoid the rush of possible evacuations.

“Our primary concern is keeping our patient's safety in mind.”

After being forced to evacuate for the first time in it's history, Meritcare is using that experience to help this time around.

“I don't think any administration team in America has any more experience with flooding than us.”

The hospital has come up with a plan should there be an emergency or a need to evacuate. When the river hits 35 feet, Meritcare begins to closely monitor events.

“Once it reaches 40 feet, we become very concerned.”

You may remember, it moved 180 patients last March to several hospitals in the region. This year, Meritcare is taking advantage of the merger, keeping patients within the system.

“We would evacuate critical patients to Sioux Falls and others to the extent we could.”

“We have a little bit more time to plan, look at our information, look at their information and see what we can do.”

Considering Meritcare is the area's largest employer, the city of Fargo is trying to help the fight. Valves will be installed to avoid sewer backup. Crews are also looking at electrical and water systems.

“Meritcare is a big user of city water. I believe 180,000 gallons a day.”

The hospital is adding supplies, like water, food, pharmaceuticals, and oxygen in case of a mass need. If that happens, it will open a 24 hour command center to deal with flood victims, patients, and the publics concerns.

“We feel like the secret to dealing with this flood this year is to be prepared for the worst.”

Innovis is just beginning the same process. It plans to have more concrete details on its emergency flood plan later next week.

Nursing homes are figuring out what to do with the elderly if flooding forces evacuations. Bethany Homes in Fargo is working on its plan. State agencies are helping.

Both Bethany sites become affected once the river hits about 41 feet. Last year, 375 residents were evacuated, in nine hours, to 18 North Dakota communities. This spring, the home wants to keep them in the metro because of logistics. It now has two churches in West Fargo to house seniors if needed.

“If other city infrastructure is blocked, acute care is not available. There's a threat of sewer problems, those will all affect us and would influence when and where we'd want to evacuate to.”

Bethany Homes hopes to keep residents on site at one of its two facilities. It's now looking at internal communications, generators, and food and water supplies on hand.