Hospitals face Hurricane Sandy power outages, failed generators

With the brunt of Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast Monday night, hospitals carried out their contingency plans to handle evacuations and power outages.

Even with preparation, back-up systems failed at NYU Langone Medical Center last night, forcing the evacuation of all 215 patients to nearby hospitals, including Sloan Kettering and Mount Sinai, The New York Times reported. There were large-scale power failures in critical areas, including the emergency department, the transplant unit and labor and delivery.

The hospital's basement, lower floors and elevator shafts filled with 10 to 12 feet of water Monday night, Andrew Brotman, senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy, told CNN.

"Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly," Brotman said about the unprecedented heavy flooding.

Some 1,000 staff members--doctors, nurses, residents and medical students--along with firefighters and police officers evacuated patients, CNN reported. Although 10 percent of the backup power was working, most evacuations were conducted by flashlight. Staff members even carried four newborns who were on respirators down nine flights of stairs, manually squeezing air into the babies' lungs, according to CNN.  

In southern Brooklyn, Coney Island Hospital's backup power systems also failed Monday, the NYT reported. In anticipation of the storm, critical patients had been evacuated Friday.

Hurricane Sandy also forced some hospitals to resort to paper records when power went out. At Staten Island University Hospital, for instance, flooding caused the data center to shut down the computers and therefore access to patient data. Nevertheless, "staff was able to preserve patient safety by relying on paper records," Terry Lynam, spokesman for the North-Shore LIJ Health System, told NBC News.

In addition to anticipating weather conditions, emergency departments braced for the influx of patients with possible storm-related injuries, as well as patients seeking care before the weather got too severe.

Emergency physician David John at Johnson Memorial Medical Center in Stafford Springs, Conn., and American College of Emergency Physicians spokesperson, said patients over the weekend rushed to the emergency department seeking treatment for heart conditions and infections before the storm took effect.

"In the emergency department, this is what people live for," Christopher Raio, associate chairman of the emergency department at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., told NBC.

St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx had prepared by setting up cots for extra patients, while staff bought their sleeping bags.

In addition, some hospitals considered "soft admissions" for women who are not yet in labor, ABC's Good Morning America reported.

"They just don't want to take chances that women get stranded before they can get to the hospital," according to obstetrician Jennifer Ashton in Englewood, N.J.

When asked about the urban legend that plummeting barometric pressure can trigger labor, Ashton said there's little scientific evidence about a correlation, although other journals have indicted midwives report increased deliveries in storms.

For more information:
- see the NYT article
- here's the CNN article
- read the NBC article
- read the Good Morning America article

Related Articles:
Hospital CIOs share their prep plans for Hurricane Sandy, other disasters
HIEs should be part of state disaster planning
Joplin hospitals share lessons on disaster planning
9/11 anniversary draws questions on hospital preparedness
Power outages, coding issues for hospitals left in Irene's wake
Katrina lessons still flooding in
Why emergency preparedness can be disastrous