Healthcare Business News

In Sandy's aftermath, hospitals brace for nor'easter

By Melanie Evans
Posted: November 5, 2012 - 6:00 pm ET

One New York hospital closed by superstorm Sandy reopened as other hospitals continued to assess damage and some prepared for a nor'easter that was expected to bring powerful winds and rain to the city by mid-week.

New York Downtown Hospital reopened this past weekend with limited services and regained heat Monday morning. It is expected to have full services Tuesday, said Fred Winters, a spokesman. The 128-bed hospital evacuated before Sandy flooded Manhattan streets and caused widespread power outages.

Bellevue Hospital Center regained power, and Coney Island Hospital regained partial power. Cleanup began at both hospitals as officials worked to assess storm damage from Sandy. The hospitals, which are owned by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., were two of eight hospitals in New York and New Jersey that were evacuated before, during and after the storm's landfall one week ago.

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Ian Michaels, a Health and Hospitals Corp. spokesman, said Coney Island and Bellevue were expected to remain closed for several weeks under current estimates. “We really don't know at this point,” he said.

Meanwhile, Health and Hospitals Corp. officials were working to prepare for another major storm that the National Weather Service said could deliver sustained winds of 30 mph to 40 mph Wednesday. Winds gusts could peak between 60 mph and 70 mph, and a storm surge could raise water levels by an average of 2.5 feet to 4.5 feet at high tide Wednesday, with the highest surge occurring on the south shore of Long Island, said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist with the NWS New York City forecast office.

Michaels said HHC was preparing adequate staffing, food and medical supplies to operate as though workers would be unable to travel and deliveries would be suspended for 48 hours. The system was also working with the New York City Office of Emergency Management to ensure a sufficient fuel supply for its backup generators.

North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System notified its senior leadership and key staff Monday morning of preparations ahead of the nor'easter, said James Romagnoli, vice president of protective services for the system. The system's South Side and two-campus Staten Island University Hospital, which lost power during Sandy, are most vulnerable to flooding.

Romagnoli said a projected storm surge of 3 feet to 5 feet would not put South Side or Staten Island at risk for flooding normally, but Sandy erased natural barriers, such as sand dunes, that previously provided additional protection against flooding. “What was a routine matter is now a matter of great concern,” he said.

Preparations for the upcoming storm include sand bags, pumps and additional backup generators, he said. Plans also include a staffing assessment and notifying workers to give them time to get ready ahead of the storm, Romagnoli said.

Under blanket waivers (PDF) signed by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed over the weekend, New York and New Jersey may process a request for increased hospital and nursing home bed capacity. The agency also suspended on-site surveys except in cases of immediate jeopardy. Patients moved to a shelter or alternate location may continue to receive home health or hospice care, CMS said. Sebelius last week declared public health emergencies in both states.

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