The first floor of Coney Island Hospital’s main building at 2601 Ocean Parkway remains a breathtaking reminder of the storm’s damage. Located nearly a mile away from the Sheepshead Bay bulkhead, and a mile-and-a-half from the Atlantic Ocean, a 14-foot storm surge barreled through the facility.
Now, electrical wiring dangles from the exposed ceilings, and walls and floors are ripped apart as contractors rebuild, and prevent further damage from mold and moisture.
But the hospital is now getting back online – at least in part – and administrators express pride in how quickly the staff rallied together to continue providing services to the community.
“It was only a few weeks ago that Superstorm Sandy forced the evacuation of all of our patients here and the temporary closure of the hospital after flood waters inundated the 10-foot-deep basement, washed through the first floor and cut off most of the vital systems needed to operate this facility safely,” said Alan Aviles, president and chief executive officer of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), at a press conference this morning. “But despite the severe damage caused by the flood waters, Coney Island Hospital was able to open its doors just days after the storm to again begin serving New Yorkers most in need of healthcare.”
The hospital reopened with limited services on November 12, and is currently offering extended clinic hours and walk-in, non-emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re offering outpatient primary care service for children and adults, and running clinics Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pharmacy services are also available for prescription renewals from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All services are being offered only in the tower building, which is accessed from Avenue Z.
In addition to services inside the facility, the hospital dispatched three mobile medical units to hard-hit Brooklyn and Staten Island communities, including Gerritsen Beach.
The New York City Council has allocated $300 million to repairs to New York City hospitals including Coney Island Hospital. Aviles said he was confident that would be enough to bring them back online, and much of it will be reimbursed by FEMA. However, he noted, more money will be needed for long-term repairs, as well as changes for preparedness, such as elevating the generators to withstand higher storm surges.
During the press conference, Aviles, who is responsible for all of the city’s public hospitals, revealed that he stationed himself inside Coney Island Hospital’s command center during the storm.
“At one point in that long night I peered out of the window into the raging rain and wind into what had been the hospital’s parking lot. The water in parts of the lot was knee-high. I knew this because to my alarm I saw three people wading through it, heading to the hospital’s entrance,” Aviles said. “I thought they must be people in need of help and shelter. Instead, it turned out they were people who give help. Those three people were Coney Island staff braving the worst of the storm to get to the hospital and take care of our patients. I will never forget that image.”
Administrators also spoke of how emergency evacuation training in the wake of Hurricane Irene paid off. When power to the building went and communication between personnel and administrators ceased, doctors, nurses and other staff members responded quickly and without guidance. As water began to seep into the emergency room after the storm surge, they rapidly evacuated their 24 patients into upper floors of the hospital.
Similarly, the facility’s engineers watched as water crept up to the generators, which are 12 feet above sea level and designed to withstand a 12-foot storm surge. But as it became clear that the waters would exceed that, they wisely shut down their generators, which prevented damage and partially allowed for a quick restoration of service after the water receded.
Aside from the staff, Aviles praised the heroism of the community’s first responders, and told a story of how they heard knocking on the doors during the worst of the storm. Beyond the door, first responders appeared in a small boat, carrying two dogs and nearby residents. With the deep water, they navigated the boat into the hospital’s interior before disembarking. The hospital served as an impromptu shelter from the storm for dozens of residents.
The hospital’s new emergency room facility, a project still under construction that was slated for opening at the end of this December, was spared from most of the damage, and will open for limited walk-in emergency services in the next few weeks. The old ER, now a hollow, dark husk, will remain under repair.
Full emergency room service – including 911 intakes – will begin some time in January, along with radiology, operating rooms and other services. However, Aviles noted, it will be a “couple months beyond that to fully restore all services and have this hospital filled with patients as it was prior to the storm.”