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Healthcare providers along East Coast prepare for Hurricane Sandy


By Beth Kutscher
Posted: October 28, 2012 - 2:30 pm ET
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Healthcare providers on the East Coast spent the weekend preparing for Hurricane Sandy, with hospitals canceling elective surgeries and discharging patients to free up beds.

The storm, which was at Category 1 strength as of Sunday afternoon, is expected to make landfall in the mid-Atlantic states by Monday night, bringing with the potential for severe flooding, downed trees and power losses, particularly in coastal areas.

Facilities up and down the East Coast added weekend appointments at dialysis clinics and asked employees to prepare to work beyond their shifts as they brought in back-up power generators and prepared extra sleeping areas for staff.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday ordered mandatory evacuations of all residents in low-lying areas along the water, flagged as Zone A, as the city also moved to suspend public transportation services starting Sunday night and closed public schools the following day.

“We will not be in general evacuating patients in the hospitals and the chronic care facilities in Zone A, although we are in the process of evacuating a small hospital in downtown Manhattan,” Bloomberg said during a press conference. “Teams from the city's health department are at these facilities making sure their emergency generators are working and that they have back-up fuel supplies.

“Yesterday these facilities were also ordered to increase staffing, and they have. Patients are also being moved to higher floors where they should be safer in case of flooding, and all of them have discharged patients that don't really require their services to reduce the number of patients they have to take care of.”

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Bloomberg later identified the hospital as New York Downtown Hospital, which was also fully evacuated during Tropical Storm Irene because of an absence of back-up power facilities in the event of a power loss.

The Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System, located on the far east side of Manhattan, also said it had started an evacuation.

Also Sunday, the North Shore-LIJ Health System, which operates 16 hospitals in New York City and Long Island, N.Y., said it was canceling elective surgeries and patient appointments on Monday and Tuesday. It was also working to discharge nonacute patients to make room for patients who might need to be accommodated from other facilities, according to an e-mailed news release.

Although the system, one of the largest in the region, reiterated on Sunday that it was not planning to evacuate any of its hospitals, it noted that it planned to transfer high-risk patients from low-lying Staten Island (N.Y.) University Hospital and Southside Hospital, Bay Shore, N.Y. Both facilities were evacuated last year during Tropical Storm Irene.

Long Beach (N.Y.) Medical Center said on its website that Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano had ordered the evacuation of all healthcare facilities and that it would begin transferring patients to other hospitals and nursing homes. It also said it would hold Sunday dialysis clinics for patients to receive treatment ahead of the storm.

NuHealth, East Meadow, N.Y., which operates Nassau University Medical Center, said in an e-mailed news release that it will receive 57 patients evacuated from Long Beach Hospital as well as 35 of its nursing-home residents.

In Central New Jersey, which is similarly expected to feel the brunt of the storm, Raritan Bay Medical Center said that it has secured its Old Bridge and Perth Amboy locations to prepare for high winds and potential flooding and power outages. It is also stockpiling medications and other supplies, according to a notice on its website.

Farther south, Crozer Keystone Health System, which operates five hospitals in the Philadelphia suburbs, said on its website that it is working to discharge patients who do not need acute care. It also said it is preparing accommodations for employees who may need to spend the night at work.

And Beebe Medical Center, Lewes, Del., said it would reschedule elective surgeries and cardiac catheterizations as well as shut its Tunnell Cancer Center, imaging center, home health operations, rehab services and physician offices.

The preparations have also expanded beyond hospitals.

Dialysis operator Fresenius Medical Care, Waltham, Mass., said it has activated its disaster response team and is working with groups such as the Kidney Community Emergency Response Coalition to deliver generators, fuel, food and bottled water to affected facilities. It is also adding treatment shifts for patients in areas that might be affected by the storm.

Melanie Evans contributed to this story.


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