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A clear message

by Loren Bonner, DOTmed News Online Editor | December 01, 2012
Everything went dark in my Manhattan neighborhood the night superstorm Sandy made landfall. The next morning was a blur. Like my apartment building, our DOTmed office in lower Manhattan lost power. With work closed, no internet at home or a working cell phone signal within a 20 block radius, my purpose that morning consisted of finding a cup of coffee and checking on an elderly relative who lives alone on East 31st Street, right around the corner from NYU Langone Medical Center, a well-respected private institution that's been around for more than a century.

I didn't witness babies on ventilators being carried out by physicians when I passed by the hospital that morning, but I did see an entire street block of ambulances waiting bumper to bumper for the signal to start transporting the remaining patients to nearby facilities.

NYU Langone lost power the night of the storm and water flooding into the hospital's basement disabled its backup generator, forcing the hospital to evacuate patients over one long 13-hour period.

I'm sure hospital officials debated fervently if they should evacuate patients before the storm. But I've read that after numerous consultations with city officials, they thought it would be safer to leave patients in the hospital. After all, they were not expecting the storm to be as bad as it was.

As of Nov. 16, on its website, NYU Langone says it's still in the process of reopening. According to the New York Times, the medical center is expecting cleanup, rebuilding, lost revenue, and interrupted research projects to cost anywhere from 700 million to 1 billion dollars. For the sake of our audience, I will also mention that NYU Langone said it lost four MRIs, a linear accelerator and gamma knife surgery equipment, which were kept in the basement. Fortunately, all patients were transported safely. But who can say if that will be the case next time?

The evacuation of NYU Langone the night of the storm is probably a familiar story at this point. It's been all over the news for weeks, along with similar stories from Bellevue Medical Center, the city's flagship public hospital, and Coney Island Hospital, another public institution. But I think these lessons are worth revisiting as threats from natural disasters become imminent for hospitals all over the country. Whether you believe in global warming or not, changes in our world climate are increasing the frequency and intensity of weather events like floods and hurricanes. It's time for hospitals to get even more serious about planning for the worst. We'll certainly revisit this topic again at DOTmed News.

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