A major hospital in the tourist area of central Brussels has been thrust into the center of that city’s response to terrorism — both treating the victims of Tuesday’s bombings and, just a few days ago, the suspect arrested for the Paris bombings. And on top of all that, hospital officials have been scrambling to respond to offers for blood donations and to deal with a bomb scare.
Saint-Pierre University Hospital, a teaching and research hospital, is one of the hospitals urgently treating victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks at the Brussels airport and a city metro station, bombings for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility and that have killed at least 30 people and injured more than 230. As of 6 p.m. local time, Saint-Pierre had treated 15 patients, including five still in critical condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
When asked how hospital staff were coping with the tragedy, a Saint-Pierre spokeswoman told STAT, “It’s personal, yes, day and night in the hospital. … [But] we are professional. All patients are equal.”
The morning bombings roughly coincided with a shift change, meaning that plenty of doctors and nurses were on hand to handle the patients, the Saint-Pierre spokeswoman said.
In those first few hours, ambulances, police cars, funeral home trucks, and pharmacy vehicles streamed in through the back entrance of the hospital, according to a Politico report from the scene. “Everything smells like blood,” Saint-Pierre nurse Tshimbalanga Maguy told Politico.
Hospital staff also arranged for family members of the victims to receive psychological support in a room at the hospital, the Saint-Pierre spokeswoman said.
Calls went out on social media urging people to donate blood to the hospital, but the Saint-Pierre spokeswoman said the hospital has not been soliciting blood donations. (The local Red Cross is handling those efforts.)
Meanwhile, a bomb alert was issued at Saint-Pierre after 2 p.m. local time as a precaution in response to a threatening tweet. It was quickly lifted after police searched the premises, the Saint-Pierre spokeswoman said. The scene outside the hospital was captured in a photo tweeted by a staffer at a local think tank:
— Giuseppe Porcaro (@porcarorama) March 22, 2016
That strain comes on the heels of Friday, when a counter-terrorism raid in a Brussels suburb led to the capture of Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen believed to be the last living suspect responsible for last November’s terrorist attacks on Paris. Abdeslam suffered a minor leg injury during the raid and was taken to Saint-Pierre for treatment. A second man named Monir Ahmed Alaaj, who sometimes goes by Amine Choukri, was also wounded in the raid and subsequently hospitalized.
On Saturday morning, both Abdeslam and Alaaj were discharged from Saint-Pierre.