Town official questions hospital preparedness

A Shelburne Selectboard member who is employed by the University of Vermont Health Network says she believes local hospitals “do not have the response capabilities to deal with a mass casualty event.”

Dr. Colleen Parker made the comment in a sworn affidavit filed this week by the Shelburne town government in its contentious lawsuit with the Vermont Railway. The issue involves the Selectboard’s 3-2 decision in early August to enact a hazardous materials ordinance designed to limit the work of Vermont Railway and other businesses.

Town lawyers are using Parker’s two-page affidavit in trying to block a preliminary injunction requested by the railroad in the 20-month-old civil lawsuit. A hearing is planned later this month in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Parker wrote in her affidavit: “The capabilities in Burlington are not the same as a large urban hospital.” She went on to criticize the size of the pediatric intensive care unit at the UVM Medical Center.

The unit “is only one room and this would be insufficient to deal with a mass casualty event,” she said.

Parker, who works for UVM at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, N.Y., said she is “professionally very familiar with the capabilities of the local hospitals,” especially at UVM. Parker said she did her medical residency there, and her husband, Dr. Craig Bartlett, is a professor of medicine and attending physician at UVM in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

The UVM Medical Center — and others involved in health and safety — took exception to Parker’s comments.

“The UVM Medical Center has comprehensive mass casualty response plans that have been approved by federal regulators. We also regularly participate in drills with the state of Vermont and numerous public safety agencies to ensure our readiness,” said Dawn LeBaron, vice president of operations and incident commander.

She said the pediatric intensive care unit has four beds and the hospital can increase the number if necessary.

“We are a certified Level 1 Trauma Center, a designation granted by the American College of Surgeons that depends in part on the capability to respond to mass casualty events,” LeBaron said. The American College of Surgeons mandates that the hospital meet disaster standards, including commitment, readiness, resources, policies, patient care and performance improvement.

“All Vermont hospitals, including the Medical Center, participate in an annual cycle of training and exercises to prepare for a mass casualty and disaster situation,” said Chris Bell, director of the division of emergency preparedness, response and injury prevention for the Vermont Health Department.

He said a large railroad explosion was one of the last statewide emergency training exercises.

Vermont Emergency Management takes those cooperative training exercises seriously, so people are truly prepared for the real event, according to spokesman Mark Bosma.

Parker also said that Shelburne Bay serves as the drinking water source for Shelburne and other towns. She said the potential of contamination of the drinking water “presents significant health risks.”

Marc Heath, one of the Burlington lawyers for the railroad, said his client plans to file a written rebuttal. He said part of it will question Parker’s qualifications to weigh in on the capabilities of the hospital and the delivery of drinking water.

He noted the fight is over salt storage facilities the railroad has installed.

“We are talking about road salt. It is not a hazardous material by any standard,” Heath said.

Shelburne gets its municipal drinking water from the regional Champlain Water District, which has two intakes in Shelburne Bay.

“We have source protection plans,” said James Fay, the district’s general manager. The district, which provides water to 12 municipal systems in nine communities outside Burlington, should be able to address any possible contamination problem, he said.

The solutions range from additional treatment of water to switching on a special connection with the city of Burlington, which has its own intake and treatment system, Fay said. He said the district also has water storage across Chittenden County.

He said the Champlain Water District intakes are about a half mile out from shore and 75 feet deep. He said the district undergoes various training scenarios and had a tabletop exercise two weeks ago with Green Mountain Power.

Fees piling up
Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2017, the Selectboard has spent $378,403 for the town attorney for just the Vermont Railway lawsuit, and a total of $582,308 for the town attorney during the two years. Legal fees since July 1 were not immediately available.

The Parker affidavit is one of two exhibits attached to a 21-page response by Town Attorney Claudine Safar to the request to block the ordinance.

The other affidavit is from Town Manager Joe Colangelo, who also is the zoning administrator. He was named as a defendant when the lawsuit was filed in January 2016.

Colangelo, who was hired in April 2014, said in his affidavit, “I have been aware that the storage of hazardous substances in Shelburne has been a concern with members of the Town of Shelburne Selectboard for many years. … Due to more imminent concerns,” it was only recently that the selectboard passed an ordinance covering storing, handling and distributing hazardous substances.

Colangelo and selectboard Chairman Gary von Stange have said the discussion has been going on for at least three years, but the Shelburne News was unable to find minutes of meetings or other public records where it was discussed.

Colangelo did not specify in his affidavit what other pressing town issues prevented the selectboard from taking action in recent years on the hazardous materials ordinance.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Colangelo referred to the regular crush of town business as competing with work on the ordinance. “There is an immense amount of stuff – day to day, week-to-week, year-to-year, that needs to get done in a municipality that is a $12 million business.  It includes town government, water, sewer, public safety, recreation, a full suite of services.”

He said Shelburne, a community of 7,200 residents, “has a lot of citizen involvement.”  He said the voter turnout percentage is among the highest in the state.

Parker, von Stange and Vice Chairman John Kerr have come under fire from some residents and businesses who believe the trio rushed to pass the ordinance to beat a court deadline. Some companies are concerned that the regulation may force them out of business.

Selectboard members Jerry Storey and Josh Dein voted against the ordinance, saying it was hurried without full consideration. They have proposed that it either be rescinded or tabled until it can be rewritten or amended. However, other board members have not supported that move. The ordinance is due to take effect in early October.

3 Responses to "Town official questions hospital preparedness"

  1. Lana Palmer   September 22, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Once again the Select Board, in particular Colleen Parker, in their desperate attempt to bring down Vermont Railways, has decided to go on public record speaking again without any knowledge.
    This time it is against the UVM Medical Center and their apparent inability to handle a mass casualty incident should there be a hazardous materials incident in Shelburne. Do they not believe for one second that the Medical Center doesn’t actually have specific requirements and certifications that have to be maintained to become and remain a Level 1 Trauma Center? How many times are the residents of Shelburne going to have to listen to the Select Board try to explain things they have no knowledge about to meet their own personal agenda? I only hope the Medical Center doesn’t decide to file a suit against Shelburne for the inappropriate comments made by the SB, we certainly don’t need to be wasting any more tax payer dollars on lawyer fees.
    As for the comment about the salt shed “contaminating” the drinking water in Shelburne. Last I knew, drinking water was processed through the Champlain Water District before it was released to the public for consumption. Is the real concern that the salt shed may contaminate the LaPlatte River? Let me throw something out there for thought. How many years has the State of Vermont been using salt on Route 7? Where do you think all the salt runoff every winter from the hills on either side of the LaPlatte River Bridge goes? That is right, right into the LaPlatte River. Anyone that has the misconception that the salt shed will ever have as much runoff as what already exists is living in the same bubble as the SB.
    And by the way, why have none of the Haz Mat ordinance supporting citizens out there not mentioned the recent leaks from the Waste Water Treatment Plant? In the last two months somewhere between the amounts of 10,000 and 100,000 gallons of partially treated or raw sewage has leaked into either the LaPlatte River or McCabe Brook. Is this not a concern to those people? Are they not worried about the drinking water? Quite frankly, I would rather taste a little bit of salt than the alternative.
    Perhaps it is time for our SB to speak on topics they actually know about rather than spewing out more misinformation to the public. Maybe it is time to start listening to the actual experts that repeatedly stand in front of you and try to explain the problems with your decisions and the consequences that your lack of knowledge have. For all those that continue to feel the need to support the SB and the Haz Mat Ordinance, I would really urge you to listen as well to the experts. There are already plenty of regulations in place to protect the citizens on both the state and federal level. See this ordinance for what it really is, another ploy in the personal agenda of the SB to attack a local business in Shelburne that is bringing revenue to the town. Despite how the process was handled with Vermont Railways, it is over, move on. Enough of our funds have been wasted on a losing battle. I would rather see my tax dollars used more wisely.

    Reply
  2. Lutz Kaelber   September 25, 2017 at 12:02 am

    This is from FPF, posted by Jim White:
    I wanted to respond to points made by Lana Ouimet in her recent posting. It made sense to quote her and then reply.
    Lana; “Once again the Select Board, in particular Colleen Parker, in their desperate attempt to bring down Vermont Railways, has decided to go on public record speaking again without any knowledge.”
    Response: Although the Select Board may not have all of the facts at times and may make some flawed decisions, to claim they speak without any knowledge seems far-fetched and unfair. It also implies that you have knowledge, they lack. What are your credentials?

    Lana: “This time it is against the UVM Medical Center and their apparent inability to handle a mass casualty incident should there be a hazardous materials incident in Shelburne.”
    Response: Given that Colleen Parker is a physician and undoubtedly has some interaction with the medical center system, as well as with other area medical people, it’s likely she would have some basis for her perspective. Again, what qualifications allow you to evaluate the capacity of the medical center?

    Lana: “As for the comment about the salt shed “contaminating” the drinking water in Shelburne. Last I knew, drinking water was processed through the Champlain Water District before it was released to the public for consumption. Is the real concern that the salt shed may contaminate the LaPlatte River? Let me throw something out there for thought. How many years has the State of Vermont been using salt on Route 7? Where do you think all the salt runoff every winter from the hills on either side of the LaPlatte River Bridge goes? That is right, right into the LaPlatte River. Anyone that has the misconception that the salt shed will ever have as much runoff as what already exists is living in the same bubble as the SB.”
    Response:
    1 — it is pretty well established science that road salt over time has significant negative impact on surrounding aquatic environments and the creatures that inhabit them. The salt doesn’t even have to be distributed to pollute. Storage alone will pollute. Here’s just one link among many that discusses the subject: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/road-salt-can-disrupt-ecosystems-and-endanger-humans-180963393/
    2 — Lana, has it occurred to you that the whole region’s, not just Shelburne’s, supply of road salt now finds a home in Shelburne? Doesn’t that make the situation a little difference in terms of the potential harmful impact on Shelburne people if the storage facility, perched on the edge of a river flowing directly into the Lake, collapses?
    3 – Doesn’t Vermont already have a huge financial issue on it’s hands with regard to cleaning up Lake Champlain? Road salt by increasing cyanobacteria is probably already putting toxins in the Lake. But what if an oversized storm compromises the salt storage system and whole trainloads of salt get dumped in the Lake (in our town) in a very short time?

    Lana: “There are already plenty of regulations in place to protect the citizens on both the state and federal level.”
    Response: I keep hearing this point, but is it not true that an antiquated and arcane federal law is what allowed the Railroad to bully its way into Shelburne in the first place, and there was nothing our Congresspeople or the State could do to help us deal with that. Yet you are asking us to put our trust in the protection offered by the Feds and the State with regard to other matters? Have we not learned any lessons from the experience of the last couple of years? I like the idea that the Select Board is at least trying to figure out how we in Shelburne can protect ourselves.

    I agree that the Hazmat ordinance should be revised and improved, and it should be done soon. In the meantime, we have something in place.

    Reply
  3. Lutz Kaelber   September 25, 2017 at 12:06 am

    Jim White’s comments address the veracity of Lana Palmer’s arguments, or rather the lack thereof, sufficiently.

    Reply

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