Oil spill forces clinic to move

By Tammy Keith Originally Published April 4, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 3, 2013 at 11:13 a.m.
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Tammy Keith

A notice placed on the Mayflower Medical Clinic door Friday let patients know that offices were being temporarily moved to the Conway Medical Clinic because of fumes from the crude-oil spill in Mayflower.

Conway Regional Medical Center’s clinic in Mayflower was forced to move temporarily to Conway because of the smell from Friday’s pipeline oil leak.

“Where our clinic is located, it is so close to the spill that the smell is nauseating,” said Lori Ross, corporate director of marketing/foundation for the Conway Regional Health System.

An underground Exxon Mobil Corp. crude-oil pipeline in the Northwoods subdivision ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of oil into yards, streets and drainage ditches, causing 22 homes to be evacuated.

Responders from a variety of agencies, including Exxon Mobil, were working 24 hours a day to keep the oil from contaminating Lake Conway.

The Mayflower Medical Clinic staff, including Dr. Blair Greenwood, moved from its location on U.S. 365 in Mayflower, immediately south of a ditch where oil still was evident Monday, to the Conway Medical Group, 437 Denison St.

Angela Foster, advanced-practice nurse, said that between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Friday, she and other employees noticed a smell “like methane gas or propane.”

“We went through and checked the heaters to see if something was wrong, and then we started hearing the sirens,” she said.

Foster said they went outside, and the smell was strong.

“We saw guys running in hazmat suits in the woods near the clinic and across the street,” she said. “Nobody told us to evacuate or what was going on. We just saw guys running through the woods in their little blue suits.”

Two of the employees get migraines that strong smells trigger, she said.

Also, because some patients have conditions, such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), that are made worse by smelling fumes, Foster said the staff closed the clinic at 4:30 p.m., which was 30 minutes early.

Jim Lambert, CEO and president of the Conway Regional Health System, said that “in coordination with the cleanup crew,” staff assessed that the odor was going to be a problem, and the decision was made to move the clinic.

Foster said all the patients who had appointments scheduled for Monday were called. She said patients come to the clinic from Cleburne, Faulkner, Pulaski, Conway and Pope counties.

Kristy Grunwald, network office manager, said four rooms at the Conway Medical Clinic were converted for the Mayflower clinic’s use.

A maintenance employee and staff members arrived early Monday in Conway, she said, to make sure the rooms were ready for patients.

“Everybody was here, and they were pitching in. As inconvenienced as they were, we wanted it to be as comfortable as possible,” she said.

Grunwald said that when she went back into the office Sunday afternoon, “the smell was still incredibly strong. They were still pumping oil next to the clinic,” she said. “I did go into the clinic, and of course, it smells less, but after 15 minutes, I had to go,” she said.

Lambert said the situation will be assessed Friday “and see if it’s cleaned up enough” for health care providers to return to Mayflower.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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