New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, sternly defended the city’s decision not to evacuate hospitals and senior centers before the advent of Superstorm Sandy, according to a report in The New York Times.
The health commissioner faced a litany of fiery questions from the City Council and argued that the decision not to evacuate the 6,300 patients to safer ground was based on information from the National Weather Service. In the time that an evacuation was capable of being executed, the NWS had reported that Sandy was headed for Long Island Sound. According to Farley, by the time it was clear that the storm would strike the heart of the city, it was too late to perform a mass evacuation.
“We couldn’t have accomplished the evacuation of everybody in Zone A before zero hour,” Farley stated at a council meeting, according to the Times.
Despite Farley’s insistence that the combination of inaccurate information and bad timing were the main cause of blame for the mess left in Sandy’s wake, City Council members wouldn’t let him off the hook.
“It was chaotic,” said Councilman David Greenfield, commenting on his own experience of observing barefoot seniors hurried out of Coney Island nursing homes, according to the New York Daily News. “It looked like a Third World country.”
The emergency evacuations that ensued following the storm were also poorly organized, leaving many family members in the dark as to where their loved ones were sent.
In the face of rigorous criticism, Farley insisted that, “due to the heroic efforts of many people, no one lost their lives in health care facilities because of the storm,” a fact that was not swallowed whole by Council members, according to the Times:
Some council members disputed that assessment, saying they believed that some deaths of old people that had been attributed to natural causes should actually have been ascribed to the storm. Dr. Farley said he was willing to look into any such deaths, but that the ultimate decision was up to the medical examiner, who had not confirmed those suspicions.
Correction (1/29/2013 at 10:41 a.m.): The original version of this article indicated the Councilman Greenfield witnessed barefoot seniors exiting Coney Island Hospital. That was an error. He witnessed them leaving Coney Island nursing homes, and the article has been amended to reflect this. We regret any confusion this may have caused.