The events of Sept. 11, 2001, will probably resonate forever in America and throughout the world, but perhaps no industry took it to heart as much as the New York hospital industry did.
For New York's hospitals, the painful irony of that horrific day was that while hospital staffs steeled themselves to treat thousands of injured, the brutal reality was that few injured ever came. Nevertheless, it served as the first in a series of tragic wake-up calls to healthcare providers who were reminded that their limits could be stretched and tested in a matter of moments.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were shortly followed by several random and still mystifying cases of anthrax in New York and elsewhere that frightened the public and temporarily shuttered for a week the tiny Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, where a basement supply worker fell ill and died. Meanwhile, in Derby, Conn., Griffin Hospital was thrust into the media spotlight when a 94-year-old widow who lived quietly alone was taken to the hospital after inexplicably contracting the disease. She eventually succumbed to it.
Taking cues from the response in New York, hospitals nationwide worked in earnest with local and state officials to prepare for disaster. The effort has been overseen by the federal Homeland Security Department, established in November 2002. Public health officials also came off the benches to take an important and strategic position on the playing field.
New York hospitals' response to Sept. 11 "demonstrated that while they were prepared for what they faced at that time, they also realized how much more they needed to do to be fully prepared for future attacks and events," says Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association. "That realization has guided their actions every day since then, and they have engaged in vast and far-reaching preparedness initiatives as a result. New York's entire healthcare community is better and stronger for it."
That can be said for healthcare organizations across the country.