The thing about most disasters —- after the massive news coverage dies down, the rest of us think it is business as usual.  And to be fair, there was much of NYC that was unscathed in Superstorm Sandy.  There is one aspect of life that can be leveling regardless of where you live or what happened in your immediate neighborhood – access to hospital care.

It has been over a month since Sandy came to town – it unexpectedly shut down several hospitals. There are so many more emergency room patients than usual a prominent Upper East Side medical center has taken to parking them in its lobby!

A Makeshift Emergency Room Last Week At Newyork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Where Emergency Visits Have Increased By 25 Percent Since Sandy.
A makeshift emergency room last week at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell where emergency visits have increased by 25 percent since Sandy.

The photographs are reminiscent of scenes from the 1918 pandemic or World War I and II.  Since the storm, a number of New York City hospitals have been scrambling to deal with a sharp increase in patients, forcing them to add shifts of doctors and nurses on overtime, to convert offices and lobbies to use for patients’ care, and even, in one case, to go to a local furniture store to buy extra beds.

Beth Israel Medical Center is a good example of this post storm impact.  It is 11 blocks south of the Bellevue Hospital Center emergency room, which sustained significant damage to the electrical, water, steam and elevator systems when the floodwaters surged into the hospital’s 180,000 square-foot basement. The average number of visits to the E.R. per day has risen to record levels…visits have increased by 24 percent this November compared with last, and the numbers show no sign of dropping. Hospital admissions have risen 12 percent compared with last November.

Other examples of impact:

  • Emergency room visits have gone up 25 percent at NewYork-Presybterian/Weill Cornell, which in Bellevue’s absence is the closest high-level trauma center — treating stab wounds, gun wounds, people hit by cars and the like — in Manhattan from 68th Street south.
    • Stretchers holding patients have been lined up like rail cars around the nursing station and double-parked in front of stretcher bays.
    • In Brooklyn, some patients in Maimonides Medical Center’s emergency room who need to be admitted are waiting two or three days for a bed upstairs, instead of four or five hours.
    • Almost every one of the additional 1,100 emergency patients this November compared with last November came from four ZIP codes affected by the storm and served by Coney Island Hospital, a public hospital that was closed because of storm damage.
    • The number of psychiatric emergency patients from those same ZIP codes has tripled, in a surge that began three days before the hurricane, perhaps fueled by anxiety, as well as by displacement from flooded adult homes or programs at Coney Island Hospital.

Bellevue Hospital began offering walk-in non-emergency services mid-November.   Limited emergency care services are expected to open by mid December and the hospital will resume full operations in February 2013.  The ETA for the other shuttered hospitals remains unclear.