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Wed Nov 21, 2012, 10:58 PM

Lessons from Sandy — Preparing Health Systems for Future Disasters (New Eng Jour Med)

Lessons from Sandy — Preparing Health Systems for Future Disasters

Irwin Redlener, M.D., and Michael J. Reilly, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.
November 21, 2012

Within hours after Hurricane Sandy's landfall, doctors and staff at one of New York City's premier medical centers realized that something was going terribly wrong. Lights were flickering, critical devices essential to life support for more than 200 patients, many in intensive care units, were malfunctioning. A decision had to be made by hospital leaders, senior public health officials, and emergency responders: tough it out in a hospital without power or attempt a perilous patient evacuation as an epic disaster unfolded.

With little time to lose, the “go” order was given, followed by frantic calls to high-ground hospitals identifying beds for receiving New York University–Langone Medical Center's critically ill patients. St. Luke's–Roosevelt, Mt. Sinai, New York Presbyterian at Columbia, and many other hospitals responded immediately, opening beds, readying emergency admission procedures, and briefing staff.

Two days later, the story was repeated. Bellevue Hospital, which had been operating without sufficient power and with failing generator fuel pumps, was also evacuated, sending more than 700 patients to other facilities around the city.

The NYU hospitals' stories were extraordinary. Doctors, nurses, support staff, first responders, and National Guard troops rose to the occasion, with bucket brigades transporting fuel to generators on high floors and slowly, carefully maneuvering fragile patients down dark stairways into the storm, where ambulances were waiting to move patients to the receiving hospitals.1 That all this took place without loss of life or immediately apparent medical consequences was remarkable.


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