In an effort to be on the front lines of the war on terrorism, the GW Hospital is considering expanding its hospital decontamination shower.
Possible expansion plans include constructing shower facilities in the parking lot of the Warwick building next to the hospital. While plans are in the works, hospital spokesperson Barbara Porter said officials have not made a final decision on expansion.
“We have had a whole disaster plan in effect since the Oklahoma City bombing,” Porter said. “The perception of the (terrorist) threat is completely different.”
Currently, 10 decontamination showers, near where the ambulances drop off patients at the hospital, are designed to cleanse a patient of chemical or biological residue before they receive medical attention inside. Each shower can clean a patient in about three minutes, hospital officials said.
Although the old medical center has had decontamination showers for six years, Porter said the interest and need for them is now greater than ever.
Some students said they have mixed feelings about the showers.
“I don’t want to think something would ever require us to need them,” junior Laura Makransky said. “It makes me more comfortable knowing that the University has state-of-the-art facilities.”
“I think it’s comforting to know that they’re there,” junior Corinne Reed said. “I just hope that there’s no need for them.”
In the event of an emergency, hospital officials said, priority for the showers will be on a first come first served basis.
“Whoever gets there and needs treatment will get treatment,” said Richard Sheehe of University Relations. Sheehe said “important” people living in the city would not have priority in using the decontamination showers.
Fairfax Hospital and Walter Reed Medical Center are the only other medical facilities in the area equipped with similar facilities.
“The hospital is located at the center of Washington, D.C., but so are the GW students,” Sheehe said. Sheehe said the University’s mere proximity to the hospital would give students an advantage in seeking medical attention in the case of an emergency.
The Medical Center funded the original shower project. Porter said the University is “actively pursuing help and funding” to cover the costs of new facilities.
“Obviously in the post-9/11 climate there are a lot of opportunities for financial assistance,” Sheehe said.
Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management John Petrie said he was skeptical of a plan for additional showers.
Petrie said he does not disagree with the plan but is looking for more details about the need for the showers.
The showers are designed for more than just terror attacks and have been used several times to cleanse patients accidentally exposed to harmful substances, hospital officials said.
“Overall, we at the GW Medical Center consider ourselves on the front line in terms of responding and being prepared for any large-scale public health crisis,” Sheehe said. ” And we are proud to be a part of that.”