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IHC is on call with hospitals, clinics and volunteers

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Olympic visitors and athletes won't be looking for medical trouble, but the hospitals in Salt Lake are actively preparing for it.

Intermountain Health Care, the official medical services provider for the Games, has five Olympic hospitals ? LDS Hospital in Salt Lake, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Cottonwood Hospital in Murray, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo and Heber Valley Medical Center in Wasatch County.

University Hospital is also an Olympic hospital, and IHC is helping the University of Utah operate a clinic in the Olympic Village for athletes and coaches.

Olympic hospitals are facilities designated by IHC for treatment of athletes, coaches, officials and spectators.

Additionally, each Olympic venue will have two medical clinics ? one for athletes and coaches and a second one for the average visitor. In total, IHC is responsible for 35 clinics during the Games, including one at the Little America hotel for Olympic officials.

The services for athletes and officials are free, said Ginny Borncamp, Salt Lake Organizing Committee director of medical services. IHC will cover the cost.

"Many of the athletes coming from outside the country do not have insurance, and as the host city, we committed to provide the care free," Borncamp said.

Dr. Richard R. Price, IHC and SLOC medical operations officer, has been working on the clinics for two years. Medical teams for the clinics were picked a year and a half ago. They have also been running drills in the clinics to handle emergencies.

IHC donated roughly $9 million to SLOC to be named the medical services provider. Unlike previous Olympics, IHC is the only hospital entity to control all official Olympic clinics and hospitals.

"There's a real benefit in having one system in charge. We can coordinate hospitals and send people to the right hospitals for their needs," said Jess Gomez, IHC spokesman.

IHC has also stepped up security in the clinics and hospitals, installing checkpoints where people will be screened for weapons and dangerous objects.

Given the thousands of visitors expected in Utah during the Games, it seems logical that all hospitals should be bracing for an onslaught of medical challenges. But Olympic history shows the opposite.

"Other Olympic cities have actually experienced a decrease in patients," Gomez said. "Most individuals will try to avoid hospitals. For instance, if you have elective surgery, you'll probably want to delay it. People don't want to be temporarily inconvenienced."

In light of recent world events, biological and chemical warfare has become a prominent consideration for IHC.

"The sheer number of extra people in the area is daunting. Where we usually have 35,000 people, we are dealing with 70,000 people. We've definitely beefed up security plans," said Ann Allen, IHC urban central region emergency management coordinator.

Allen said they have been coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help prepare for a possible biological or chemical warfare attack. Also they have trained about 100 people especially to handle biological or chemical warfare problems.

IHC is using a lot of volunteer manpower for its Games operations. More than 13,000 people volunteered for some 1,300 slots. The number chosen includes physicians, emergency medical technicians and athletic trainers. The medical volunteers will all wear easily identifiable red jackets from SLOC. Each volunteer has committed to work seven eight- to 12-hour shifts during the Games. A total of 8,820 medical shifts are scheduled during the Olympics and 2,149 shifts for the Paralympics.

Along with its volunteer commitment, IHC is required to provide helicopter ambulances in case of emergencies that cannot be dealt with at the clinics.

"The athletes just won't compete unless the helicopters are there," Gomez said.

IHC has also tried to provide foreign language support at the hospitals as much as possible. "At the LDS Hospital, we have a significant number of people who speak multiple languages. If someone comes into our emergency room, language will not be a problem," Gomez said.

E-mail: sgiles@desnews.com