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Police tape crosses the doors at Bellevue Hospital Center, which may be closed for weeks.
Police tape crosses the doors at Bellevue Hospital Center, which may be closed for weeks.

New York's Bellevue Hospital Center could stay shut for two weeks after storm damage

By Joe Carlson and Melanie Evans
Posted: October 31, 2012 - 4:00 pm ET

Bellevue Hospital Center could remain closed for two weeks, if not longer, as officials work to repair flood damage from superstorm Sandy and restore full power.

Alan Aviles, president and CEO of New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., which owns Bellevue and a second hospital shut down by Sandy, said a closure of two or three weeks for Bellevue was a rough estimate and that officials were still unable to safely inspect damage caused by flood waters in the hospital's basement.

Aviles' remarks came Wednesday evening as the hospital continued an evacuation that began a day earlier with the hospital's most critically ill patients. About 300 patients remained in the hospital, which had 725 patients during the storm, he said. More than 20 hospitals across the city were likely to accept patients, he said, and evacuation efforts were expected to continue into Thursday.

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The hospital was operating on generators with limited power after the destructive storm caused power outages in lower Manhattan.

Conditions at the hospital made an evacuation "urgent" but "not emergent," said Dr. Natalie Levy, a physician in internal medicine at Bellevue. Levy arrived to work Wednesday morning to find that the hospital had no water service, no elevators and only limited laboratory services available. The hospital had limited electrical service as of Wednesday afternoon.

She said physicians were asked to triage the hospital's patients and decide who could be discharged safely and who would be transferred to other hospitals. She described the evacuation process: “Very organized, calm and controlled. I'm impressed.”

Generators at Bellevue continued to operate in the storm. That was not the case a few blocks away at the 786-bed NYU Langone Medical Center, where a power failure caused an emergency evacuation of 300 patients hours after Sandy made landfall. The 371-bed Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, also owned by the Health and Hospitals Corp., lost power for four hours after the storm hit when generators were pre-emptively shut down to prevent flood damage, Aviles said. The generator at Coney Island Hospital is located in a brick building outside the hospital that is elevated above ground by a couple of feet, he said.

But fuel pumps for Bellevue's generators, which are located in the hospital's flooded basement, suffered damage, Aviles said. It's unclear whether power lines to the fuel pumps caused the damage or if water leaked through the pump's protective seals and caused the failure, he said.

Members of the National Guard carried fuel in 5-gallon buckets up 13 flights of stairs to keep the generators operating.

Aviles said officials believed the hospital to be safe from flooding based on projections for how high above normal tides water was expected to rise. Initial projections said the water would surge 11 feet higher than normal. The surge instead reached 13 feet. He said the hospital is located 20 feet above sea level and called the flooding “amazing.”

He said Bellevue's 1-million-square-foot basement contained 2.5 feet of water. An estimated 17 million gallons of water flooded the basement.

The hospital is the fifth in New York City to evacuate as a result of the storm. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he learned Wednesday of the evacuation.

“We learned this morning that Bellevue will have to be evacuated because of damage it has sustained,” Bloomberg said of the hospital owned by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp.

Without power from the electric grid, Bellevue had been running on emergency power generators. However, hospital officials inspected equipment in the hospital's basement and “they realized there was damage they didn't know about,” the mayor said.

Two other hospitals were evacuated of the storm: 128-bed New York Downtown Hospital, the Veteran's Affairs Department's New York Harbor Healthcare System Manhattan Campus.

Bloomberg said the evacuations did not result in any patient deaths.

The city also evacuated 13 of its 17 chronic-care facilities in the flood-prone area known as Zone A, and four other facilities are still being emptied of people, he said. “We want to make sure that people are moved safely, and we have to use extra care to do that,” he said.

All of the evacuations were having an effect on the hospitals that remained open.

The 1,029-bed Mount Sinai Medical Center reported that it could accommodate 30 medical-surgical patients, two pediatric patients and 15 more psychiatry patients, on top of the 10 psychiatric patients it accepted from Bellevue on Tuesday. Mount Sinai also already has accepted 64 patients from NYU Langone, an e-mailed statement from the hospital said.

If Mount Sinai accepts all additional patients, the hospital will be running over capacity, the statement said.

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