We’ve extensively covered the mayhem and damage visited upon Coney Island Hospital since Superstorm Sandy flooded its basement and first floor and knocked out its power late last October. A Metrofocus report now looks to the future as Coney Island Hospital, and other hospitals shut down by Sandy, begin to plan to better protect their infrastructure and better handle mass evacuations to prevent life threatening conditions for patients in critical need.
When Sandy struck Coney Island Hospital, the situation was dire.
“It was really, really frightening because all of a sudden there were no lights […]no communication. No communication even with the telephones that we have here in the hospital. No communication with any cell phone,” Terry Mancher, the chief nursing officer at Coney Island Hospital told Metrofocus. “We were pretty much left totally by ourselves.”
The hospital, with its 470 empty beds, still hasn’t returned to full service, a fact which speaks to the breadth of Sandy’s toll. Improving the infrastructure for future storms won’t be easy.
“Your back-up power system, which hospitals are required to have, is really only as strong as its weakest part,” said Dr. Sheri Fink, a ProPublica contributor who has written frequently about hospital infrastructure. “[At] NYU we saw they had invested millions of dollars to improve that structure, and to improve the back-up power system, and to move generators upstairs, but there was still some electrical circuitry that was down in the basement. And when that got flooded, that knocks out the system.”
Hospital officials are not only now dealing with the challenge of improving the hospital’s infrastructure, but with the complex and dangerous procedures that are undertaken in an evacuation. According to Dr. Kristi Koenig, a medical professor and Director for the Center for Disaster Medical Sciences at the University of California, the risks from evacuations are great. Not only are there dangers for moving patients using critical life-support, there is a danger in transferring them to a facility that may not have the technological capability of sustaining their life-support systems.
Following Sandy, the hospital was aided by the Army Corp of Engineers. The corps announced recently the winding down of their mission, which oversaw the installation of some of the largest power generators ever deployed, including a massive two-megawatt generator installed in Coney Island Hospital.
“It’s one of the biggest generators in FEMA’s inventory,” said Elton Choy, an electrical engineer with the Army Corps. “The [hospital's] transformers were completely destroyed by water.”
Given how easily and quickly mother nature disabled a major metropolitan hospital and how long the recovery from such an event is taking, the sense of urgency for those working behind the scenes to prevent another knock out grows day by day.