Southern Brooklyn

Decision Not To Evacuate Nursing Homes Before Sandy Backfires

Source: JohnnyBarker / Flickr

In an exhaustive, and frankly depressing, report by the New York Times, the decision not to evacuate nursing homes in vulnerable flood zones by state and city officials, including the Sea Crest Health Care Facility on Coney Island, produced disastrous conditions for thousands of disable seniors across Zone A communities.

Concluding that the approaching storm would be no worse than Tropical Storm Irene, in which an order to evacuate was given, Mayor Bloomberg, acting on advice from officials in Governor Cuomo’s office, issued a recommendation that facility operators in nursing homes not evacuate their patients.

The order to evacuate nursing homes last year for Irene had cost the city millions in transportation, health care and housing. It was a mess the city didn’t want to repeat in light of Irene’s minor impact on the city, and officials were optimistic that Sandy’s impact would be on the level of Irene.

They were wrong.

As Superstorm Sandy raged northward, nursing homes in Zone A, all filled with their patients, were devastated by flooding, power loss, and lack of heat. Backup generators in these facilities were shorted out and patients were left in cold, wet, damaged and darkened rooms. 305 patients in the Sea Crest Facility were among those trapped in the nightmarish conditions.

A rescue operation involving the National Guard, Fire Department, and all available ambulance crews was put into motion three days after the storm struck to evacuate thousands of patients living in Zone A. The delayed action invited more chaos. Patients were shifted to overcrowded shelters, some as far away as Albany, and many without proper medical care.

The Times quoted surgeon Dr. Joesphine Tsai who stationed at one of the emergency shelters, “Patients were saying, ‘I take a red pill,’ ‘I take a green pill. You didn’t know who was diabetic, who had a heart condition; it was dangerously chaotic.”

Refusing to accept full blame for the calamity that ensued, city officials attempted to pass the buck to the facilitators of the nursing homes by claiming that the Mayor issued a recommendation and not an order to stay put. Nursing home administrators decided not to evacuate, interpreting the Mayor’s advice as sound.

With the disaster that followed, assigning blame is not as important as preventing a repeat of a similar scenario should another storm come crashing into the city. Prevention will require better planning and the notion of not taking any chances. Alan M. Levine, senior vice president of Health Management Associates, and an official who has managed responses to many hurricanes summed it up, “When you are talking about frail elderly or persons with disabilities, in my experience, you don’t take chances. If they are in a mandatory evacuation zone, you evacuate.”

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  1. Instead of Monday morning quarterbacking, maybe the journalists should look more critically at themselves (right, like that is going to happen), having cried wolf a million times with past sensationalism, finally the real thing came along, and nobody listened. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  2. That’s absolutely ridiculous. You make it sound like members of the media know whether or not a storm is definitely going to hit or not. It’s our job to sound the alarm, because you need to be prepared in case it hits. Far more dangerous is people like you, who before Sandy hit was urging people on this very site NOT to leave because, oh, Irene was nothing. Look, no one knew Irene was going to be nothing, and no one knew that Sandy was going to be something. All we know is when it looks bad and the risk factor exceeds a certain percentage, we need to report that it looks bad, and you ought to be safe rather than sorry.

  3. This makes me wonder about Peninsula Hospital. I heard a few years ago they were closing it. I don’t know how they fared this storm but it is located in a very bad spot for any form of rescue efforts AFTER a storm does it’s damage. Where will people go?

  4. Peninsula Hospital closed in April of this year but the extended care and rehabilitation departments are still open. They’re in a bad spot so I doubt they have reopened.

  5. Thanks, I had some doings with the head radiologist a few years ago. I’ll have to find out from those sources what became of all the employees.

  6. It’s the media’s job to sound the alarm but not cause any unnecessary panic. Before the brunt of the storm reporters were sent to wherever they could find a puddle of water so they could yell and scream. The only meteriorolgist who told the truth without trying to unneceeasrily scare everyone was Nick Gregory of Chanel 5. He said everything you are hearing is a worst case scenario which could happen, but the chances are slim. As it turned out, we did have the worst case scenario and after the storm, reporters did not have to look that hard to find devastation. Ned, even you were guilty. After five blocks flooded in Manhattan Beach near Amherst Street, your headline said “Manhattan Beach Under Water.” That eventually did happen about ten hours later, after your story appeared. A more appropriate headline would have been “Flooding in Manattan Beach.” I think more people would have taken the warnings more seriously if the media wasn’t so sensational before the storm. When you always cry wolf, you will not be believed. One weather forecaster predicted 14 foot waves for the Nor’easter which turned out to be nothing.

  7. A little off the subject, but I got a little tour of Rockaway by car Friday. It almost made me cry. You have to see it live to understand the devastation. And this is being written by someone who had his own lobby wrecked. As much as Coney suffered, and it did, it seemed to pale in comparison. Rockaway looks like earthquakes and bombs hit it. Much of the boardwalk is gone, I was told the boards actually flew into the buildings across the street. It was just utter devastation. I can’t even describe in words…

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