New York City’s Emergency Rooms Overflow As Hospitals Damaged By Hurricane Sandy Remain Closed

Photo credit: Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

When Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast at the end of October, flood damage and power outages forced some of New York City’s hospitals to evacuate their patients and staff, and public health officials anticipated that those hospitals would have to remain closed for at least several months. And now, a little over a month after the superstorm swept across the city, New York City’s remaining hospitals are starting to feel the strain after picking up increased patient loads.

The New York Times reports that medical professionals are scrambling to compensate for the fact that the emergency rooms and inpatient services at four New York City hospitals remain closed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — particularly since the superstorm damaged the facilities at Bellevue Hospital Center, the city’s premiere public hospital and high-trauma center. The influx of patients to the city’s other hospitals is causing long lines and staff shortages:

“It’s like a World War II ward,” Teri Daniels, who had been waiting a day and a half with a relative who needed to be admitted, said last week.

Since the storm, a number of New York City hospitals have been scrambling to deal with a sharp increase in patients, forcing them to add shifts of doctors and nurses on overtime, to convert offices and lobbies to use for patients’ care, and even, in one case, to go to a local furniture store to buy extra beds. […]

Emergency room visits have gone up 25 percent at NewYork-Presybterian/Weill Cornell, which in Bellevue’s absence is the closest high-level trauma center — treating stab wounds, gun wounds, people hit by cars and the like — in Manhattan from 68th Street south. Stretchers holding patients have been lined up like train cars around the nursing station and double-parked in front of stretcher bays.

Hospitals are also struggling to accommodate an influx of psychiatric patients, due to both displaced patients from damaged adult homes and increased anxiety levels triggered by the storm.

Just last week, the New York Health Department warned that, although the superstorm has passed and the news cycle has largely moved on, New Yorkers still face a “significant risk of serious illness or death” in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Power has been restored to the city, but an estimated 12,000 New Yorkers are still living without heat in their homes, contributing to a spike in cold-exposure cases over the past month.

Public health officials worry about the situation worsening as the winter months bring even colder temperatures — particularly because the New Yorkers who visit emergency rooms to be treated for hypothermia may have a long wait in front of them.