Volume 19 • Issue 15 | August 25 - 31, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

Paramedics bring a patient into the new emergency center at New York Downtown Hospital, left. Dr. Antonio Dajer in his office, above, talks about what happened in the hospital on and after 9/11.

Downtown Hospital cooks up new E.R. wing

By Ronda Kaysen

A new $25 million emergency center will open at New York Downtown Hospital next week, transforming Lower Manhattan’s only emergency room into a state-of-the-art center with the largest decontamination unit in the city.

Located just six blocks from the World Trade Center site, the Lehman Brothers Emergency Center on Gold St. between Beekman and Spruce Sts. doubles the size of the original E.R., and can decontaminate hundreds of people per hour in the event of chemical or biological contamination. Hospital officials modeled the sparkling new 26,000-square-foot facility after Israeli emergency rooms, which often deal with suicide bombings and other attacks.

“It’s really necessitated by the location; we’re the only hospital in Lower Manhattan. All you have to do is look at the map, there’s no one around us,” hospital president Dr. Bruce Logan told Downtown Express in a telephone interview.

The renovated cafeteria can double as a triage center, if necessary, with oxygen and fluid stations hidden in the walls. The center also has a newly expanded cardiac unit and three negative-pressure rooms where patients with infectious diseases could be quarantined, and private areas for women and children.

The center officially opens on Sept. 7, although it has been treating patients throughout the expansion. When it is complete, the new glass entryway on Gold St. will become the new exterior face of the hospital.

Plans for a $12 million emergency room renovation were in the works since 1993. But after Sept. 11, 2001, the hospital scrapped its original plan and decided it needed a far larger center.

“Our hospital launched the largest hospital response in United States history to this attack,” said Dr. Logan. “We needed to build a bigger-capacity E.R. to handle emergencies.”

Normally, the Downtown Hospital E.R. treats 80 to 100 patients a day. On Sept. 11, the E.R. treated 350 patients in the first two hours of the disaster alone. The cafeteria transformed into a triage center, as patients with serious injuries overflowed the E.R. The patients who arrived first were horribly injured, with severe jet fuel burns and devastating lacerations from falling pieces of aircraft.

“I saw burns I never saw before in my life,” said Dr. Antonio Dajer, interim chief of the emergency medicine department, sitting in his office on Monday afternoon. He was the attending physician on the morning of 9/11 and treated patients with severe head injuries, charred skin and massive wounds. “It was astonishing, the amount of trauma,” he said.

By day’s end, the E.R. had treated as many as 1,200 patients, in addition to the hundreds of people who streamed through the hospital seeking shelter from the stifling dust cloud that enveloped the neighborhood.

For days, Downtown Hospital operated without electricity, steam, gas, phones and computers. Relying on generators, the hospital treated rescue workers injured in the recovery effort and served 9,400 free meals to anyone who wanted one. Hospital workers delivered food and prescription medicine to nearby residents unable to leave their homes.

The neighborhood “was like a war zone with nothing functioning,” said Dajer. “We really became the only game in town.”

Attacks against the city define the hospital in many ways. A group of financiers founded the original Beekman Street Hospital after someone exploded a horse-drawn cart in front of the J.P. Morgan building at Wall and Broad Sts. in 1920, killing 39 people. The hospital later merged with the New York Infirmary, a hospital founded in 1853 by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the U.S. In 1975, the hospital responded to the Fraunces Tavern bombing on Pearl St., and it responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Lehman Brothers donated $5 million toward the new emergency center. Several other financial institutions also made hefty contributions, including the New York Stock Exchange, AIG, the Bank of New York, the Starr Foundation and J.P. Morgan Chase.

The nonprofit hospital never received funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. or the Homeland Security Dept. and still needs to raise $4 million for the project.

“It is hard to understand how the only hospital in Lower Manhattan would not be funded for something like this,” said Logan. “It’s really quite amazing and somewhat disheartening that we haven’t received any money from L.M.D.C.”

The L.M.D.C., a city-state agency created to rebuild Lower Manhattan, has been distributing nearly $2.8 billion in redevelopment money.

“L.M.D.C. has not received a proposal for Downtown Hospital’s new emergency room,” wrote Michael Haberman, a community liaison for L.M.D.C., in an e-mail statement to Downtown Express. “We have informed Downtown Hospital that their proposal for an Imaging and Cardiovascular Center will be reviewed as part of the process for distributing L.M.D.C.’s remaining funds.”

The agency announced earlier this summer that its job was finished and it would soon dissolve. It still has some money to distribute before it closes up shop, including about $45 million in community development funds.

Downtown Hospital built the new emergency center with a large-scale attack in mind. The cafeteria transforms into a triage center by simply unlocking wall panels and moving tables aside. The decontamination unit is hidden in the ceiling above the ambulance bay. Within minutes, ambulances can be diverted to the street parking and the hoses turned on, creating an outdoor, high-pressure, group shower.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be another 9/11, but what I am afraid of is the kind of thing that happened in London, what happens in Israel on a regular basis, what happened in Madrid,” said Dr. Logan, referring to suicide bombings abroad. “This kind of terrorist bombing is happening all over the world. That is what we’ve got to be prepared for.”


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