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RNC traffic, road closures pose challenges for hospitals

In Tampa Bay's hospital emergency rooms, labor and delivery suites and intensive care units, the last week in August should be no different from any other.

At least, once you get there.

The Republican National Convention could leave residents scrambling to get to their hospitals. Major roads leading to Tampa General Hospital, All Children's Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center and other medical facilities will be blocked during political events.

Hospital officials and emergency planners intend to deliver care without interruption. But anyone seeking medical care should check on road closures and allow extra time to reach hospitals. And in an emergency, experts say, call paramedics rather than trying to drive to the hospital.

That advice always holds when you are the patient — nobody should drive while experiencing serious symptoms. And you really shouldn't take a spouse with cardiac or stroke symptoms to the hospital yourself, since paramedics can start treatment right away.

But while the RNC is in town, navigating even familiar routes could get tricky, and paramedics will know their way around any barricades. Dads-to-be — you might rethink the traditional panicked drive to the hospital if labor is speeding along.

"If you are in an emergency situation with chest pains, or you are very pregnant and expecting at any time, you should probably call an ambulance," said Tampa General spokesman John Dunn. And if you have an appointment for nonurgent care, allow an extra 30 to 45 minutes of travel time in case road closures slow you down.

On its website, the hospital has posted alternative routes to help patients get to its campus on Davis Islands, adjacent to the main convention zone in downtown Tampa.

St. Petersburg hospitals are also affected over the weekend, when Tropicana Field will host a welcoming party for politicos. For much of Aug. 26, motorists won't have access to Interstate 175 — a critical artery leading to All Children's and Bayfront.

Further, since All Children's unique mix of services draws young patients from greater distances than many hospitals, it plans to station one of its pediatric ambulances in Hillsborough County. That way, if a critically ill newborn must get to the neonatal intensive care unit, the ambulance would face traffic delays in only one direction.

Parents and relatives of many All Children's patients will be encouraged to pack an overnight bag, as it may be easier to spend the night with their child than to drive back and forth.

"The care is not going to change. Your access to your child is not going to change," said spokeswoman Ann Miller. "(But) getting here and leaving here are probably going to be more interesting.

"And once you're here," she added, "you may want to stay."

Bayfront Medical Center anticipates similar issues with the I-175 closure. Its officials are urging medical staff and employees to review road maps well in advance to ensure they'll arrive at work on time. That's especially key since the hospital could become busier during the convention treating overheated protesters and other visitors.

"I-375 still works. Fourth Street still works," hospital spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. "If you can get here through those routes, you're good."

In medical emergencies, paramedics in Tampa and St. Petersburg say they will have access to closed roads. Bayflite and other medical ambulance services also will not be affected by the RNC.

Paramedics are telling residents not to worry — emergency planners have spent months working through every contingency they can imagine.

"We have backup plans for our backup plans," said Tampa Fire Rescue spokeswoman Debra Sue Warshefski. "That's just the way we run, because we have to."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330.

RNC traffic, road closures pose challenges for hospitals 08/13/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 13, 2012 11:38pm]
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