After working overtime to accommodate refugee patients from downtown hospitals during Hurricane Sandy, Glenda Miranda, director of Patient Care Services at St. Luke’s hospital, said that she had never been happier just to see fresh laundry.
St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital found itself hosting roughly 125 evacuated patients from downtown Bellevue and NYU hospitals after their generators failed during Sandy—an influx of patients it dealt with by implementing a 24-hour command center, adding makeshift bedrooms, and having many staff members not leave the hospital for four days. And two weeks after Sandy ripped through New York, the hospital is still caring for dozens of those evacuated patients as their facilities recover.
Dan Wiener, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Luke’s and one of many staff members who slept at St. Luke’s Sunday night in anticipation of the storm, said that the space constraints of the hospital posed a major challenge in housing all of the patients.
“This was a storm I’m sure nobody imagined would ever hit New York City,” Wiener said. “We went from being at nursing capacity to being at physical capacity,” noting that the hospital was using all of its space to house the patients.
He added that the Roosevelt detox unit and the St. Luke’s pediatric unit were cleared to provide more room.
The hospital found “mothball beds” on wards that are generally unoccupied, and the Salvation Army delivered cots for the staff members, several hundred of whom slept in conference rooms and halls.
During the hurricane, the hospital’s staff set up its 24-hour emergency “command center” in a conference room equipped with a television screen that monitored patients’ vitals, another screen to broadcast the news, and telephones to keep the staff connected.
According to Wiener, all hospitals in the Greater New York Hospital Association have command centers, which activate when a Code D for “disaster” is in effect.
“We would hear some news, and there would be a moment of silence where we all panicked,” Miranda said.“But then you take a deep breath and realize you can make major decisions in just a few seconds.”
Greg Calliste, chief administration officer at St. Luke’s, credits the command center’s communication within and outside the hospital with the success of the operation.
“Part of our response was having a fast-track process for transfers,” he said, which meant checking the patients and finding beds before completing paperwork. The hospital had a nearly complete list of patients’ names and conditions, and would get the chart sent over in hard copy in the ambulance.
Wiener said that on an average day at the hospital, about 50 patients would arrive by ambulance. But during the hurricane, that number increased to about 100.
“You can sometimes look at these practice things as tedious,” Calliste said, “but thanks to them, we were able to rise to the occasion. Disasters bring out the best in people.” Though many nurses worked 12- and 24-hour shifts, the staff kept going. Most did not leave the hospital for four days, despite the effects that Sandy wrought on their own homes.
Now, the challenge for St. Luke’s is to discharge the 35 evacuees who are still in the hospital, many due to the damage their nursing homes sustained from the hurricane, making it harder for some patients to return home.
As Bellevue and NYU remain closed, St. Luke’s administrators are looking at ways to manage its patients, including an agreement whereby staff from closed hospitals are authorized to provide care for patients at St. Luke’s.
Miranda said that the “heartwarming camaraderie” among the staff helped them to weather the storm together and provide the best care possible for their patients. Wiener agreed.
“One said she felt we had rolled out the red carpet for her,” he said.
Alexey Sisov, a 26-year-old patient from Bellevue who was evacuated to St. Luke’s early on Tuesday morning, recalled being woken up by “six army guys.”
“I was pretty groggy. They just rolled me up like a hot dog, put me on a stretcher and carried me down six flights of stairs.” He added that he got a glimpse of the lobby full of National Guard officers before being put into an ambulance.
He then recalled waking up “in a room reminiscent of a hospital in a developing country.”
“I was only there for 20 minutes, and then I had this beautiful room where I’ve been since,” he said, indicating the mural on the wall of the pediatric ward. “Who could be upset by butterflies?”