When Hurricane Sandy hit our shores in late October, even some of the most prestigious healthcare facilities found themselves humbled by the superstorm. But the event also highlighted some accomplishments and advancements in emergency management and preparation.
At Hackensack University Medical Center, we began preparations for the storm more than a week in advance. Backup generators and extra fuel supply were brought on-site; food, medications and ample sleep accommodations were stocked at the hospital before the hurricane touched down. Once we lost power on Monday evening, HackensackUMC immediately switched to emergency generators and established an incident command center to streamline information and communications.
During the storm, the medical center received and treated 60 patients from a neighboring hospital, Palisades Medical Center (Hudson County, N.J.) that, like other hospitals, needed to be evacuated because of flood-related damage. With assistance from the National Guard and members of the Palisades healthcare team, patients were transported seamlessly in the middle of the night and early morning. Our New Jersey Mobile Satellite Emergency Department (NJ-MSED) units, funded through a unique partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, absorbed some of the patient overflow. The units are outfitted with critical-care beds, a portable digital X-ray unit, a small pharmaceutical cache and one is outfitted as a mobile operating room.
In conjunction with the EMS Task Force, we were able to provide lifesaving emergency services to residents in four New Jersey counties, as well as hard-hit Long Island. In fact, in the middle of the storm, the NJ-MSED team delivered a healthy baby boy while deployed in Brick, N.J. We remain deployed in Jersey City to this day, ensuring we remain committed to the recovery efforts. We will remain on-site as long as requested, and have already seen nearly 1,000 patients.
On our main campus, we focused on helping our staff safely get to and from work. During the week of the storm, HackensackUMC purchased 1,000 gallons of gas and brought a tanker on campus to provide direct patient caregivers with up to five gallons each. Local gas stations also provided HackensackUMC staff members with a “priority” line. All of these efforts helped make it easier for some of our team members to continue providing critical care to patients.
We should reflect on the positive performances demonstrated throughout the region. When put to the test, many hospitals rose to the occasion, and emergency drill practices were transformed into real-life situations. Coordination, cooperation and open communication between hospitals were integral to the success of patient transfers and should be used as standard practices for the future.
Robert C. Garrett
President and CEOHackensack University Health NetworkHackensack, N.J.