April 23, 2014

UMCPP Blast Under Investigation, Staffer Stable

An explosion on Thursday evening, April 10, in a patient’s room on the third floor of the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (UMCPP) seriously injured a female staff member. The patient and a visitor were treated for smoke inhalation. The visitor was held briefly for observation and then released. 

UMCPP’s automatic fire alarm was sounded at the Plainsboro Fire Company, Station 49 at 8:52 p.m. While en route, Plainsboro police advised firefighters that they had received reports of a fire in a patient room and an explosion. First arriving units found a haze of smoke and evidence that an explosion had occurred. A small fire in paper products was quickly extinguished.

Units from Kingston, Monmouth Junction, Kendall Park, Princeton, and Princeton Junction also responded along, with the unit from the Plasma Physics Lab at Princeton University.

According to a statement released at the scene by hospital officials, 18 patients in the immediate area of the explosion were moved to other floors of the hospital as a precautionary measure. The hospital continued to operate throughout the incident.

A statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office, the day after the blast, which is believed to have been accidental, reported that the explosion occurred at approximately 8:50 p.m.

The cause of the explosion and the fire that followed is being investigated by the Middlesex County Fire Investigation Unit and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. It is thought to have been related to an oxygen tank but as yet there has been no explanation as to cause.

Requests for an update on the investigation’s progress from the Middlesex Prosecutor’s office were not fulfilled by today’s Town Topics deadline.

The staff member, whose name is not being released at the request of her family, was found to be seriously injured and later transferred by helicopter to the Burn Unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, the sole state-certified burn treatment facility in New Jersey. One of the largest in North America, it treats more than 400 patients each year.

The injured worker, reportedly a nursing assistant, was first listed in critical condition. As of yesterday, her condition was described as “stable,” according to the website created to elicit funding to aid in her recovery. Set up by a fellow staffer at the hospital, the online fund at Go Fund Me (www.gofundme.com/897clc) has, so far, gathered contributions of over $16,000.

“Our first priority has been the welfare of our colleague who was so badly hurt, and our employee assistance program is working to address the emotional well-being of all employees who were affected by the incident,” said Barry S. Rabner, president and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System, yesterday.

“In addition to working with local municipal, state, and federal bodies, we are working internally with ECRI experts, who evaluate accidents like this,” said Mr. Rabner. ECRI (formerly the Emergency Care Research Institute) is an independent nonprofit agency that researches ways of improving safety and quality of patient care.

Since this statement from Princeton HealthCare System (www.princetonhcs.org/phcs-home/whats-happening/phcs-news–information/media-inquiries.aspx#sthash.01jUugja.dpuf), the hospital has not released further details about the staff member or the incident.

Kathleen Ryan, director of Nursing and Peri-op Services at the Medical Center, describes the powerful emotions that followed the incident. Her letter to the editor is on page 13 with one from Mr. Rabner.