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Inspection finds RVMC fire evacuation flaws

MEDFORD — Rogue Valley Medical Center officials are working to correct outdated fire evacuation plans and structural problems that surfaced during a fire safety inspection last week.

Medford Fire Department Inspector John Patterson and five state fire marshals spent 60 hours combing the hospital looking for deficiencies that could pose problems in the case of a fire.

"We didn't find anything that was bad enough to close the hospital," Patterson said. "It was just general procedures that needed to be followed."

The inspection was required by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as part of its accreditation process. The hospital has to maintain the fire safety requirements to receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for the year.

Brown said he would know more about the results of the inspection when the fire marshals release their report within the week.

There were only a few areas of major concern, but RVMC officials spent the weekend revamping the hospital's fire policies, said Kent Brown, RVMC's chief executive officer.

"We pulled out all the stops to make sure we are where we need to be," Brown said.

Patterson said the hospital needed to update its emergency evacuation policies.

"We found some safety and fire drill policies that were outdated and needed to be brought up to speed," Patterson said.

He described the drill and evacuation policies on recent additions to the hospital, such as the six-story bed tower completed in 2005, as inadequate.

"There are certain ways you go about evacuating a large tower like that, and the hospital needed to change their policies to meet those requirements," Patterson said.

Inspectors also were concerned about fire-resistant walls that had been breached in certain parts of the hospital.

"They drilled holes in the fire walls to string through data cable and wire," Patterson said. "You don't want holes in fire walls because smoke can get through. Smoke is sometimes the most dangerous part of a fire."

The fire wall issues were concentrated mostly in a kitchen area in the hospital's lower floor which is being remade into a storage area, Brown said.

"We had to take out the ceiling during construction, which then made it to where the overhead sprinklers were set too low," he said.

The sprinklers have been raised to the proper height and the hospital has posted someone on 24-hour fire watch in the construction area, Brown said.

Brown said hospital officials are hard at work correcting the major problems.

"We have about 75 to 80 percent of our employees trained on the new drill procedures," Brown said. "The rest will be taken care of in the next few days."

Patterson said hospitals are among the most complex buildings in a community and are laden with fire restrictions.

"We watch them very close throughout the year," Patterson said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.