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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Dozens of emergency patients were shipped out of New York Downtown Hospital prior to Sandy’s arrival in the tri-state area, marking the first time in the hospital’s 60-year-history that it had to evacuate its William Street facility.
The task was daunting but necessary, as the safety of patients would have otherwise been at risk, said Jeffrey Menkes, the hospital’s president and C.E.O.
Menkes and his staff decided to evacuate patients the Saturday before the storm when they learned Con Edison was planning to de-activate steam service in the area to protect its equipment. He then summoned his staff at midnight to move all 125 patients to other area hospitals.
“The hospital has an emergency generator, but we use steam and hot water to essentially sterilize instrumentation,” said Menkes. “Without the steam, we were severely compromised. We can’t run operation rooms [or] deliver babies.”
By 2:30 a.m., all of the patients and their records had been moved out to be transferred. It was an enormous undertaking that went surprisingly well, Menkes said.
The evacuation was also a first for Menkes, who has 40 years of hospital experience. “We’ve faced catastrophic events — obviously, our hospital was involved with 9/11 because we’re four blocks from Ground Zero — but we’ve had nothing of this magnitude where our ability to maintain service at the hospital has been compromised,” he said.
During the storm, the hospital continued to accept walk-in patients that required urgent care — including a woman who gave birth and who was later transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Downtown Hospital regained steam by 10 a.m. the morning of Sun., Nov. 4. “It took about three hours for the hospital to warm up.” Menkes reported. The next day, the hospital began accepting emergency patients and setting up its in-patient units. By Nov. 6, the hospital was fully up and running again.
“It’s taking us a better part of the week to set back up again, but everything is back to normal as far as our ability to operate,” said Menkes.
The evacuation of some city hospitals, he noted, demonstrated the need for health care authorities to work with government agencies to set new standards for emergencies.
“The lesson we’ve learned is that hospitals have to function during catastrophic events,” he said. “We have to make sure that in an emergency, Con Edison has the ability to either switch us to a different grid or put us on different grids to begin with that can function during catastrophic events. We’re also going to need back-up generators, and we have to make sure they’re in hardened structures that are hurricane-proof.”