NEWBURYPORT — Concerned residents yesterday flooded Anna Jaques Hospital with calls after a Reverse 911 message led them to erroneously believe the emergency department would be closed for the next eight weeks.
Around 5 p.m. Sunday, an automated phone call alerted those who signed up for the department's Reverse 911 system that access to Anna Jaques' emergency department via Wallace Bashaw Junior Way would be restricted for eight weeks starting yesterday due to planned renovations to the hospital.
Those who use Bashaw Junior Way to access the emergency department will be redirected to Rawson Avenue, Highland Avenue or Hunter Drive during the construction. Access to the hospital's parking lot and medical center will not be affected.
But Anna Jaques Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Chiaravalloti said many people receiving the call believed the emergency department itself was closing for eight weeks. As a result, the hospital spent considerable time assuring concerned individuals that the emergency department will be available whenever needed.
"It is not closed at all. The emergency department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — always will be. It is not undergoing renovations," Chiaravalloti said.
The massive $18.2 million renovation project will include a new inpatient unit consisting of 18 private rooms; a new, more efficient power plant and a new outpatient entrance where the current power plant is located. An official ground-breaking took place early last month. The project is expected to take about 18 months to complete.
Newburyport City Marshal Thomas Howard said the decision to send out a Reverse 911 call was made after receiving word from the hospital about its changing traffic pattern.
The Reverse 911 call has been used periodically to alert residents of snow emergencies, traffic changes and other significant events. The system can also be tailored to certain sections of the city. As of last August, about 7,900 households had signed up to receive Reverse 911 calls. The city, which signed a three-year contract with Plant CML last year for the service, pays no more than $8,500 per year for the Reverse 911 system.
Chiaravalloti said the hospital bore no hard feelings toward the police department, acknowledging people often only see or hear certain things, no matter how clear the message is.
"I completely understand when a message goes awry," Chiaravalloti said. "We just need people to know the emergency department is open."
To clear up any possible confusion, the hospital is running an advertisement in today's Daily News. Public service announcements have been airing on local radio station WNBP 1450 AM, as well, Chiaravalloti said.
The following is the text of Sunday's Reverse 911 call as provided by the Newburyport Police Department:
This is the Newburyport Police Department with an important message regarding access to Anna Jaques Hospital. Access to the hospital's emergency department will not be available via Wallace Bashaw Junior Way starting June 20, 2011, and continuing for an eight-week period. Anyone attempting to go to the emergency room must take an alternate route from either Rawson Avenue, Highland Avenue or Hunter Drive. Access to the Newburyport Medical Center and the hospital parking lot will not be affected during this period. Thank you. Goodbye.