New York City Hospitals May Not Resume Full Operations For Months Following Damage From Hurricane Sandy

The New York City Council is voting today on a $500 million aid package to address the damage wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, $300 million of which would go to repairing the electrical systems, elevators, boilers, and other damaged infrastructure in the city’s public hospitals. In the meantime, however, at least two of the hospitals that were forced to evacuate during the storm could remain partially or completely shut down for another two and a half months:

Storm damage forced the Health and Hospitals Corp. to evacuate and then close Bellevue Hospital Center and Coney Island Hospital. Nine hospitals in New York and New Jersey evacuated because of the storm, which hit the New Jersey coast two weeks ago.

Alan Aviles, president and CEO of the Health and Hospitals Corp., said Coney Island Hospital resumed its outpatient services three days after the storm and its emergency room was expected to begin limited operations by the end of the month, but the 371-bed hospital would not admit patients until the first week in January. The 778-bed Bellevue Hospital Center was expected to open its outpatient services in one week, he said. Bellevue will require state approval to begin limited operations of its emergency room on backup power in order to open by the end of the month. Bellevue is expected to reopen its hospital to admissions by the first week in February.

Bellevue is the centerpiece of New York City’s public hospital system in lower Manhattan, and the only high-level trauma center in that area of the city. Bellevue’s staff has been shifted to other hospitals, which are stepping up as best they can to fill in the gap. Israel Medical Center, also located in lower Manhattan, has seen its ambulance traffic increase by 70 percent since Sandy tore through the city. All remaining public hospitals are operating near full capacity, with very few beds available.

For the moment, city officials believe the still-functioning parts of the hospital system can pick up the slack — assuming, of course, another disaster is not waiting in the wings. And even then, there is a time limit: “All systems can work at above capacity for some time without significant detriment,” Dr. Ronald Simon, director of trauma at Bellevue, told ProPublica. “But, with time, people will tire, over-worked systems will fail, and patients will suffer… No question in my mind that the current status of care in Manhattan is not sustainable for any length of time.”