Nurses And Home Aides Weathered Hurricane Sandy To Continue Caring For Their Patients

The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy has strained the medical professionals who, in the face of dangerous conditions, have continued to ensure that their patients receive the care they need. Perhaps the most prominent example of medical workers who confronted Sandy head-on is the staff who were forced to evacuate patients in critical condition after their New York City-area hospital facilities flooded and lost power. But, as the New York Times points out, another less-celebrated group also worked tirelessly throughout the superstorm to continue bringing quality care to the vulnerable Americans who needed it most.

While many businesses shut down during Sandy to ensure that their employees could remain safely inside, nurses and home aides — who tend to earn a salary right around minimum wage — actually increased their hours to make sure they could serve all of the patients who depend on in-home medical care, even as the hurricane raged on. More than 5,000 nurses, aides, and social workers from just one company, the Visiting Nurse Service, were out serving patients during and after the storm:

“I saw six patients yesterday,” said Ms. Gilleran, who trains nurses at Partners in Care, and does not ordinarily make home visits. But because of Hurricane Sandy, the agency pressed all available registered nurses into field duty, as did other agencies around the city, often sending them into conditions made difficult by the weather: the power failures, the lack of public transit, the traffic. […]

Allison Chisholm, 46, who works for the Visiting Nurse Service, lives with a frail mother in Park Slope, Brooklyn. When the lights started flickering during the storm on Monday, she had images of her mother falling in the dark. But she also had patients who needed her, including one receiving hospice care in a 12th floor apartment in Chinatown, and one needing an intravenous round of antibiotics in the West Village.

“It was treacherous driving during the hurricane,” said Ms. Chisholm, fitting an intravenous line into the arm of Jill Gerson, 71, who teaches social work at Lehman College in the Bronx. “But it’s just something you have to do as a nurse. That continuity of care helps the healing. I don’t see this as being heroic. I have a conscience. I need to get to sleep at night.”

As the East Coast slowly returns to life as normal, in-home medical professionals are not slowing down. In addition to the regular work of caring for patients in their homes, the storm’s aftermath has increased the need for mental health services, as hurricane survivors who have been evacuated from their homes or have lost loved ones deal with the trauma.

Jill Gerson, one of the patients who relies on the care she receives from Visiting Nurse Service employees, pointed out the great debt she owes to her home nurse. “This service saves a fortune, because we don’t have to be in hospitals. They don’t pay these people enough,” she said.