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NYU Langone Medical Center in New York
After generators failed at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, staff members carried patients down a stairwell to transfer to other facilities.
Photo credit: AP PHOTO

When tragedy hit, providers were quick to respond

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: December 22, 2012 - 12:01 am ET

Devastating events in the second half of 2012 force public officials and providers to reflect on the causes and the healthcare system's ability to respond.

In September, public health agencies begin to track an outbreak of fungal meningitis infections in Tennessee. The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eventually connect the cases to tainted lots of steroid injections shipped from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. NECC and Ameridose, another Massachusetts company that shares ownership with NECC, issue voluntary recalls of all their products.

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The CDC traces the tainted steroid lots to 76 healthcare facilities in 23 states as they attempt to help hospitals and state and local officials handle the outbreak. By year's end, public health officials have linked the steroids to at least 39 deaths and 620 cases of meningitis or other infections.

Long Beach (N.Y.) Medical Center
Long Beach (N.Y.) Medical Center suffered damage from floodwaters during superstorm Sandy in late October.
In addition to provoking calls for more forceful state and federal oversight of compounding pharmacies, the outbreak tests the ability of healthcare systems to handle large numbers of patients presenting with the unusual infection and its unexpected complications. By chance, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in Ypsilanti, Mich., receives many of them and then dedicates an inpatient unit and outpatient clinic to serve as a regional referral site. At one point, the facility is handling about 25% of cases in the national outbreak.

In late October, superstorm Sandy hits New Jersey and forces thousands of patients to evacuate from hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities and the closure of nine hospitals in New York and New Jersey.

One Manhattan hospital—NYU Langone Medical Center's Tisch Hospital—evacuates about 300 patients after backup power fails shortly after Sandy hits land. Five hospitals that suffered flood damage continue to remain closed for admissions six weeks after the storm. New York State requests $3.1 billion to aid rebuilding by the state's healthcare providers. New York City, meanwhile, agrees to increase its capital budget to provide $300 million to the city's Health and Hospital's Corp., which owns two hospitals closed for an extended period by the storm.

Hospital leaders work to repair their facilities enough to take care of patients while also figuring out how to modify their operations to be better equipped for future storms. Experts convened by state and city officials, meanwhile, consider new standards that could compel hospitals to retrofit generators, electrical systems and fuel pumps to prepare for even bigger storms.

As the year draws to a close, a 20-year-old man kills 20 children and six adults including his mother with an assault rifle at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school before turning the gun on himself. The shooting comes just five months after a deadly mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., sent more than 50 victims to six hospitals. The tragedy renews calls for better mental health services and stricter controls on assault weapons, including from the American College of Emergency Physicians and other healthcare groups.

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