Late notice

It took the state fire marshall’s office a quarter century to identify the hazard, but Hillsboro Community Medical Center is now renovating its emergency unloading area to bring it into conformity with the state’s fire code.

Michael Ryan, chief executive officer at HCMC, said an inspector from the state fire marshall’s office concluded a few months ago that having an ambulance with a gasoline tank in the hospital’s enclosed unloading area presented a fire hazard.

“They looked at it and said we really shouldn’t have a vehicle in there that has gasoline in an area like that,” Ryan said.

The HCMC staff and board considered several options for correcting the problem, including adding a sprinkling system within the enclosure.

“We looked at options that were up to a quarter-million dollars to keep that (enclosure),” Ryan said. “This is going to be way, way less expensive than that.”

The board opted for a plan that will essentially turn the loading area from an enclosed garage to an open carport. A canvas canopy will be added over the walkway from the carport to the hospital doors.

The renovation is projected to cost less than $20,000 and will be covered by maintenance funds through the City of Hillsboro, which owns the facility.

“We really appreciate that the city is willing to help us with that,” Ryan said. “The board is very appreciative.”

Challenging the state fire marshal’s ruling was never a question, Ryan said, even though the timing of it is unusual.

“It’s just not something you fight,” he said. “You comply and go on. If we’re not in compliance, we need to be.”

Ryan said he only wished the problem had been discovered 25 years ago when the unloading area was first enclosed.

“We had operated as though we were in compliance,” he said. “We thought we were in compliance or else we wouldn’t have done it that way.”

Ryan was grateful that the cost of the project won’t affect the hospital’s cash flow. A $20,000 expense would have been a blow to the operating fund.

“When you’re trying to get by on as thin a margin as we have, it’s quite a bit (of money),” he said.

“Given the pressure we have with the Balanced Budget Act and the cuts in patient reimbursements-and Medicare reimbursements in general-it’s just tough.”

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