WHEN the floodwaters rose around New Orleans hospitals after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, doctors wondered whom to rescue first. Sick babies? Critically ill adults? The elderly?
More than seven years later, as Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, Bellevue Hospital’s basement filled with millions of gallons of floodwater from the East River. The physician heading the intensive care unit was told that most backup power was likely to fail. She would have six power outlets. Which of her 50 patients should get one?
Doctors faced these impossible choices because our creaking medical infrastructure leaves American hospitals, nursing homes and high-rises for the elderly vulnerable to even the most foreseeable disasters. Plans to get patients out of harm’s way are also inadequate.
Since Sandy hit a year ago, hard-working health and hospital officials have made good progress in defining the risks, but less headway in actually implementing solutions. We need to do more. Over a third of the beds in New York City’s hospitals and nursing homes and more than half of those in adult care facilities are in hurricane evacuation zones. Vital mechanical elements remain unprotected in basements or on lower floors.
Sandy displaced more than 6,400 patients. Some were evacuated in the midst of the storm, without medications or records, and family members could not find them. The disaster forced the closing of six city hospitals and 26 residential care facilities. It resulted in an estimated billion dollars in hospital emergency response costs and another billion dollars in repairs.
Outpatients, too, suffered. Doctors’ offices, pharmacies and dialysis and methadone clinics were inundated or lost electricity. Thousands of disabled and elderly residents were trapped for weeks in high-rises without power, elevator service or heat. A class-action lawsuit has been brought against the city on behalf of hundreds of thousands of disabled New Yorkers for alleged defects in planning. This May, the Department of Justice filed a statement in support of the disabled residents, noting that “emergency plans throughout the nation” failed to account for their unique needs.
Read the full article on The New York Times Website.
Dr. Fink won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism for her work on the Katrina aftermath and was awarded the College of LSA's Humanitarian Service Award.