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After Hurricane Sandy, Medical Centers Work to Prevent Future Issues

By ThinkReliability Staff

As a result of both infrastructure damage and power failures due to Hurricane Sandy, five major hospitals in the New York City area had to be evacuated (see our previous blog about one hospital’s evacuation).  Medical centers in the impacted areas are still recovering, while trying to determine what should be done to prevent future risk – and who should be responsible.

Historically, it’s been difficult to tell whether or not a hospital’s emergency plan is adequate until it’s tested.   In May of 2011 (less than 6 months before Sandy hit), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that a majority (over 76%) of hospitals that were part of the National Hospital Preparedness Program “met 90% or more of all program measures for all-hazards preparedness in 2009”.  Many of the hospitals that were evacuated had earned accreditation by the Joint Commission – which includes criteria for emergency preparedness and backup power capacity.   In fact, according to the Joint Commission, the hospitals that were forced to evacuate would still be accredited based on the existing codes.  Says George Mills, the director of the Joint Commission’s Department of Engineering, “Yes, we would accredit them. We have no standards that say get your generator out of the basement.”

But that is exactly what many hospitals that have been affected by storm surges are doing.   NYU Langone Medical Center has upgraded its infrastructure and purchased flood barriers which can be deployed in the case of flooding. The hospital was reimbursed $150 million for rebuilding costs by the federal government shortly after the storm.  Bellevue Hospital Center, where the basement flooded in 45 minutes and took 5 days to pump out, also installed flood barriers and will be raising its backup generator’s fuel pumps from the basement.  Coney Island Hospital has elevated its outside electrical equipment and installed temporary barriers, but is looking at the elevation of its emergency department, which is on the first floor.  (In addition, the Manhattan Veterans Affairs Medical Center evacuated before the storm and experienced complete flooding of the basement and ground floor, resulting in power failures.  Also evacuated were 200 patients from the Henry I. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility.)

The city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation President Alan Aviles says the cost of repairs, response and long-term protection from floods will be more than $800 million.  The projects will not be started until the city ensures that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will cover the costs.

According to Al Berman, the head of disaster recovery organization DRI International, the city won’t know how effective these measures have been unless much more rigorous testing is done . . . or until the next storm hits.  In his words, “A disaster is a terrible time to test your plan.”

The information related to the impacted goals as a result of the evacuations from Hurricane Sandy are captured in an Outline, the causal relationships leading to the evacuations and the proposed solutions are captured in a Cause Map, which can be viewed by clicking “Download PDF” above.  The Cause Map allows us to visually capture the cause-and-effect relationships in a logical, organized manner that clearly demonstrates the impact of various causes and the benefit of proposed solutions.

What about the hospitals that managed to weather the storm?  The Shorefront Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Brooklyn, just a few yards from the Atlantic Ocean, was praised for its handling of the storm – and assistance it provided to other healthcare facilities.  Says their administrator, Loyola Princivil-Barnett, “Our executive team have been taking, and are taking, emergencies very seriously.  It’s a matter of life and death.”