Cal-OSHA investigates Oroville Hospital

Alerted by an anonymous call from Oroville last week, the News & Review has learned that the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) is set to investigate a hazardous-materials incident that occurred in the emergency room of Oroville Hospital during the last week of March.

According to the caller, sometime around 8 or 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 29, fumes, later determined to contain carbon monoxide, seeped into the hospital’s emergency room, causing about 10 people—both staff and patients—to become nauseated. The caller said hospital administrator Robert Wentz dispatched two hospital workers to try to locate the source of the fumes.

The caller further said Wentz’ concerns for bad press led him to hold off calling the Oroville Fire Department until the fumes were removed by opening windows and turning on portable fans. Wentz, the caller said, told staff he did not want “Channel 12 breathing down our necks.”

Oroville Fire Chief Dave Pittman confirmed this week that his department was called by the hospital in relation to the incident, but that the call did not come until 2:11 in the afternoon.

“We used a four-gas [detection] meter but didn’t detect anything,” Pittman said. “There is no way to measure an odor.”

Pittman said investigators believe prevailing winds had blown fumes from the trash incinerator into the roof-mounted air-conditioning units, which circulated the fumes into the emergency ro0om and other parts of the hospital.

Dean Fryer, spokesman for Cal-OSHA, said, “We do have an open investigation out, though [the hospital administration] has not responded.” He said the “complaint investigation” was related to the “malfunction of an incinerator.”

“We make contact with the employer to explain the circumstances, and if we chose to at that point we investigate,” he said. “We can investigate at any point if we see employees are in imminent danger.”

Wentz could not be reached for comment by press time.