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Route 4 in Vermont is a main supply route for Rutland Regional Medical Center. The road has been closed after being washed out by heavy rains.
Route 4 in Vermont is a main supply route for Rutland Regional Medical Center. The road has been closed after being washed out by heavy rains.

East Coast hospitals wrestle with Irene's impact


By Modern Healthcare staff
Posted: August 29, 2011 - 6:15 pm ET
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(Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET with details about New York and New Jersey hospitals.)

Although Hurricane Irene didn't deliver the punch that was feared as it approached, hospitals across much of the Eastern Seaboard will spend the week assessing damage and restoring operations after preparing for the worst.

The storm passed into Canada overnight but flooding continued this morning in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.

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In Vermont, one of the top concerns for Rutland (Vt.) Regional Medical Center is getting supplies to the 137-bed hospital following road closures and flooding in the southern region of the state.

Tom Huebner, president of Rutland Regional, said the hospital's major transportation corridor—Route 4—had been shut down, which has affected shipping of supplies to the hospital as well as some staff members' ability to travel. About 10% of the hospital's 1,200 employees have not been able to get to the hospital because of road conditions.

Some trucks bringing supplies are being required to take roads that are more than 100 miles out of the normal route in order to reach Rutland Regional, which had taken in about 80 patients from two nursing homes that had flooded Sunday. Huebner said the patients had returned to the homes by Monday morning. Hospital staff had also supplied the patients with medication and oxygen over the weekend.

In northern Vermont, Fletcher Allen Health Care reported no power outages or flooding, according to Michael Carrese, media relations specialist for the 419-bed hospital in Burlington. He said the hospital was preparing for the transfer on Monday of 10 patients and caregivers from Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.

New York hospitals reopen; one New Jersey hospital evacuates

In Manhattan, the Veterans Administration New York Harbor Healthcare System reopened Monday afternoon. More than 100 patients were transferred from the hospital, which emerged from the storm with little damage.

The Coney Island Hospital, owned by the New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., began to accept patients after reopening its emergency department at noon Monday. Evelyn Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the system, said the hospital evacuated 250 patients, of which 100 patients would return. Outpatient clinics will open Tuesday, she said.

Critically ill patients will remain at transfer hospitals and others ready to go home will be discharged, she said. The hospital suffered no discernable physical damage, Hernandez said. Coney Island doctors and nurses traveled with patients to alternative hospitals and remained during the weekend but then transferred medical care for those patients who will remain, she said.

New York University Langone Medical Center opened its emergency room Monday morning, but said on its website the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine would not admit patients until storm damage was repaired. NYU Langone Medical Center said labor and delivery, outpatient diagnostic, cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology also resumed. Other services would be restored and evacuated patients would return over the next two days.

North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System reopened its Staten Island University Hospital and Southside Hospital in Bayshore, N.Y., won approval from state health officials to reopen on Sunday evening. Spokesman Terry Lynam said Southside Hospital admitted 38 patients almost immediately.

Most of the 1,000 patients evacuated from the two-campus Staten Island University Hospital and Southside Hospital won't return back in order to prevent complications that could occur during transfers, Lynam said. However, patients who require specialty care, such as brain injury or psychiatry services, will return.

Electricity has been restored to one of three hospitals in the 11-hospital system that relied on emergency power Sunday evening, he said. Hospitals were not severely damaged.

St. John's Episcopal Hospital, which evacuated 257 patients and another 127 nursing home patients, reopened Monday at 6 a.m., hospital CEO Nelson Toebbe said. Patients were being transferred back to the facility, he said. The hospital suffered no damage from the storm.

In New Jersey, the Department of Health and Senior Services said Palisades Medical Center opened Sunday and Hoboken University Medical Center was scheduled to reopen Monday evening, said Ellen Refowitz, senior vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer. Refowitz praised the engineering and housekeeping staff for steadily working through the weekend to prepare the hospital to reopen. Flooding at one point left the hospital “sort of sitting in the middle of a lake,” she said.

New Jersey Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Donna Leusner said in an e-mail that St. Clare's Hospital evacuated 14 patients on Monday to its Denville, N.J., campus from its Sussex, N.J. campus. A spokeswoman did not return a request for comment by deadline.

Surge of babies

Wilmington, N.C., dodged Irene's worst, as the center of the hurricane was at sea as it passed the city near the South Carolina border, but New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington had an interesting time during the storm nevertheless. Mothers delivered 17 babies in an 18-hour period while the hospital was on lockdown, according to spokeswoman Carolyn Fisher. The hospital usually sees 10 or 11 births per day, Fisher said. A group of doctors brought their guitars and entertained the children of staff members who were staying at the hospital while their parents worked, Fisher added.

Overall, Maryland hospitals fared well following Hurricane Irene's landfall this past weekend, according to Jim Reiter, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association.

“It could have been worse,” Reiter said. “Hospitals are always prepared for these things, so some took actions to be precautious.”

Late Friday afternoon, the McCready Foundation—which has acute-care and long-term-care facilities in Crisfield, along Maryland's Eastern Shore—evacuated about 70 patients, 95% of whom were nursing patients, said Shane Kelley, director of marketing and community outreach for McCready. Those patients were transferred to facilities run by post-acute provider Genesis HealthCare. The handful of patients in the medical-surgical unit of McCready Memorial Hospital were transferred to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., while family members took the three assisted-living patients who were receiving care at McCready. All patients are returning to McCready on Monday, Kelley said.

Maryland hospital closed

Shore Health System's Dorchester General Hospital, Cambridge, Md., evacuated patients early Sunday morning because of wind and water damage from Irene. The hospital remains closed but the system expects to reopen in a few days “maybe as early as Wednesday,” said Linda Mastro, director of corporate communications for the system. The decision was made after severe damage to the laboratory room warranted the lab's closure. The hospital also saw damage to its operating rooms, central supply, some patient rooms and chemotherapy unit.

About 30 patients were transferred by ambulance to the system's Memorial Hospital in Easton, Md., and patients in the behavioral health unit were transferred to Eastern Shore Hospital Center in Cambridge, according to a news release the system issued Sunday.

Facilities in other states along the Eastern Seaboard managed well during the weekend.

“We really got lucky here, in terms of the region,” said Ellen Jones, manager of communications at Bayhealth's Kent General Hospital in Dover, Del. The hospital had some minor flooding but otherwise was unaffected by any power outages or health IT losses. Both of the system's hospitals remained open; did not need to evacuate patients; and accepted new patients throughout the hurricane.

Lynne Zultanky, corporate communications director at Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System in Norfolk, Va., said two of its hospitals operated on emergency generators for several hours, but all of it hospitals and emergency departments remained open and accepted new patients. Zultanky credited the smooth operations to planning and lessons learned from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

—Rich Daly, Melanie Evans, Vince Galloro, Jaimy Lee, Jessica Zigmond and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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