For almost two weeks, New Jersey’s healthcare community has been fixed on a single goal: caring for patients in the aftermath of one of the worst natural emergencies to ever strike the Garden State. This storm will forever be linked to the images of devastated shore communities, neighborhoods without electricity and long lines at gas stations. But I wanted to highlight what has gone on at our hospitals and other healthcare facilities behind the scenes – things like:
- Healthcare employees sleeping at their hospitals and nursing homes because of travel and fuel problems. They did it to make sure adequate staffing would always be available to care for their patients.
- Hospitals across the state caring for a tremendous number of New Jerseyans in their emergency rooms; some hospitals reported ER volume as high as four times normal. Many of these were true emergency cases, some were patients with needs like oxygen that couldn’t be met in their homes without electricity, some were individuals who experienced chest pains, back injuries and other problems as they began the long process of storm cleanup, and many were individuals coping with stress-related conditions and other mental health issues related to the pressures of the storm.
- Hospitals becoming true community centers during the storm and resulting power loss. A few examples among many: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Rahway and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center opened community “charging stations” in their lobbies for residents without electricity. CentraState Healthcare System opened its fitness center and showers to the public, providing a healthy outlet for residents with no power or hot water in their homes. And hospitals in the Atlantic Health System provided space for community-based physicians whose offices were without electricity.
- A team of healthcare workers working at an elderly support program in Jersey City called PACE – Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly – climbing into a van during the storm to call on their clients and make sure they had the support they needed.
Those are some of the stories I’ve heard, but I know there are many other examples out there. I would love to hear more and invite you to add your comments at the bottom of this post and share any other stories of service in the storm.
For me, one of the things I will most remember from Hurricane Sandy is the reassuring reality that healthcare services never stop. Despite storm surge, damaging winds, power loss, fuel shortages and any number of challenges, New Jersey hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and hospice providers cared for the people of our state before, during and after the storm. A few examples: Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Barnabas Medical Center performed six life-saving transplants in a three-day span when they were still on generator power. And AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center – which took a pounding on the coast – delivered 20 babies, including a set of twins, in the four days during and immediately following the storm. So far as we know, none were named Sandy.