By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief
Whether the National Weather Service officially categorized Sandy as a tropical cyclone or a hurricane, the damage it caused was unprecedented as it made its way through the mid-Atlantic area and up through the Hudson Valley and New England.
I’m one of millions without power, but consider myself lucky, given the horrific damage sustained by many in neighboring areas. The severity of the storm really hit home as I learned about hospital closings—as any nurse or physician will tell you, it’s not something done without a great deal of deliberation, as moving severely ill patients carries its own significant risks.
In Brooklyn, Coney Island Hospital, a city-owned facility, was closed. In Manhattan, New York Downtown Hospital and the Manhattan VA Medical Center moved or discharged patients before the storm hit. And because of storm damage, New York University Langone Medical Center and more recently, Bellevue Hospital Center, the 275-year-old flagship hospital of New York’s municipal hospital system, were evacuated.
Stories are emerging about the heroic efforts of hospital staff who worked through the storm, evacuating patients down many flights of stairs, using plastic sleds as they slid patients down as many as 17 flights in some instances. The stories reminded me of those I heard from nurses at Charity Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and from nurses from St John’s Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri, which was hit by a tornado, or even following the attacks of 9/11. And of course, there are the home health nurses, who had elderly and ill patients depending on their visits—see this article for stories of visiting nurses who have been braving arduous travel in the city to see to patients.
All such stories have the familiar theme of care providers who prioritized finding a way to keep patients safe during the disaster. We hope to bring you some personal accounts—they deserve to be highlighted and the professionals involved should be applauded. And we should also give kudos to staff at the hospitals who received the evacuees. On short notice, these clinicians had to absorb new patients, many of whom were frightened and perhaps confused. And then, of course, there were families who needed to be notified. All in all, there were herculean efforts on all sides.
No doubt there are many people who are, or in the coming days will be, severely stressed or perhaps in crisis, and that includes health professionals. Here are some resources we hope will be helpful now as you react or in the future as we take stock of these events and our readiness:
The following AJN articles are available as open access. There are others, too, in our Responding to Disasters collection.
“Disaster Care: Public Health Emergencies and Children” (December, 2009)
And from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Kit (this includes materials for helping the public as well as for dealing with personal stress):
“Psychosocial Issues for Children and Adolescents in Disasters” (this and following are large PDF; may take time to load)