Woes Left in Hurricane's Wake Are Enormous
East Coast hospitals that had evacuated their patients before Hurricane Irene struck during the weekend have begun to admit them again as diminished winds continue to blow northward in the form of Tropical Storm Irene.
In New York City, for example, Staten Island University Hospital reopened its doors last night, as did Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey. However, nobody has given the all-clear sign just yet. St. Clare's Hospital in Sussex, New Jersey, is discharging or transferring 14 patients today because of a malfunctioning emergency generator, said a hospital spokesperson.
Although Irene has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, the woes it left behind are enormous. An estimated 4.2 million homes and businesses along the Eastern seaboard lacked power as of Sunday night. Meanwhile, storm-swollen rivers continue to flood inland cities and threaten to contaminate drinking water.
Irene has been a troublemaker with a wide reach. A healthcare research company called Stratasan estimated through computer mapping technology that more than 60 million people, 135,000 physicians, and 459 hospitals lay within the storm's path.
Irene did not wreak the havoc that Hurricane Katrina did in 2005, but nevertheless it caused the deaths of at least 16 individuals in 6 states, according to news accounts.
At the same time, storm-battered hospitals continued to usher in new lives. Seventeen babies were born during the weekend at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, said Stephanie Strickland, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Hospital Association.
Similar to other facilities up and down the seaboard that suffered power outages, New Hanover Regional kept its monitors and lights on thanks to an emergency generator.
Good preparation translated into good patient care during the weekend, said Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
"Two weeks before the storm, coastal hospitals, the Department of Health and Senior Services, and county Offices of Emergency Management completed a hurricane exercise that really ensured that the state's plans were up to date and [that] the issues that we found in training were addressed appropriately," Ms. Leusner told Medscape Medical News.
Coping with the storm also required the best of Hippocratic spirits. Some physicians and nurses spent the weekend at East Coast hospitals, not knowing when they might be relieved.
"Many slept in rooms where their patients were housed," said Ms. Leusner.
At Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York, psychiatric resident Kendra Campell, MD, curled up on a bed in a resident on-call room Saturday night.
"I got 4 or 5 hours of sleep," said Dr. Campbell. "It wasn't bad."
Dr. Campbell worked during the weekend in the psychiatric emergency department, where stressed-out patients came for shelter, medications, and a listening ear. Clinicians kept them occupied with games and art exercises. One of the attending physicians strummed an acoustic guitar to brighten the mood.
"I felt an overwhelming sense of teamwork," said Dr. Campbell.
Dr. Campbell was able to go off-duty at 5 pm on Sunday. She Tweeted her sense of relief: "Hours worked at the hospital: 33. Meals eaten out of paper bags: 3. Showers taken: 1. Walking home post-call and post-hurricane: Priceless."