Jersey City Medical Center Emergency Department Staff Returns ‘Home’ After Being Displaced by Hurricane Sandy
On Dec. 22, nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy hit the area and forced the temporary relocation of the emergency department at Jersey City Medical Center, the staff has finally returned to its renovated emergency department.
During the late October “superstorm,” four feet of water surrounded the hospital. Despite sandbags and other precautions, nearly two feet of water breached the building and flooded the entire first floor – including the ED.
Dr. David Castillo was resuscitating and intubating a patient as water rose above his shoes. It was only after the patient was stabilized that he could be safely evacuated to higher ground. Another patient actually swam to the ED in hopes of finding a warm, dry place to ride out the storm.
“We thought we had planned for the worst, but it was so much more complicated,” said Michael Bessette, MD, medical director of the emergency department. “We had experienced flooding with Hurricane Irene, but nothing like this.”
Dr. Bessette and Cheng-Teng “Bill” Wang, MD, re-arranged the schedule to enable staff to arrive before the storm was due to strike– and to stay overnight if needed.
As the water rose in the ED, patients were transported to the PACU on the second floor, since elective surgeries had been cancelled in anticipation of the hurricane. The displaced ED team was already facing higher-than-normal patient volumes when a fire in Jersey City brought 30 to 40 firemen to the ED. Recognizing the crisis, the National Guard set up a makeshift shelter and medical clinic at the Jersey City Armory, so ultimately some of the less severe cases were referred there.
“Patients didn’t want to leave,” Dr. Bessette explained. “At home, they had no heat, no electricity. Schools were closed, most pharmacies were closed, doctors’ offices were closed. Patients who needed oxygen couldn’t get it. Transportation systems were down, so even those with a safe place to go couldn’t get home. And our patients have a lot of social issues, so we had to improvise to get them in touch with the community agencies that could provide the services required.”
Cell phone and email systems were affected by the storm, further hampering communication and coordination. Medical center staff connected with the few pharmacies that remained open to expedite getting patients the medications, nebulizers, methadone dressings and other supplies they needed.
After the flood waters receded, the ED was declared unusable. Six ambulances were lost due to the flooding and 60 employee cars were totaled. The whole department had to be reconstructed section by section. A seven-bed trailer was parked outside and used as a fast track area to keep patients moving through the system during repairs. No equipment was lost in the flood, according to Dr. Bessette, so what could be moved was transported to the appropriate area.
“The staff adapted well,” said Dr. Bessette. “It was difficult having our department spread out in different locations both inside and outside the medical center, but the staff did a great job.”
As can be expected, the ED’s wait times and LWOB rate suffered during the disruption, but Dr. Bessette reports that because of the diligence and resourcefulness of the staff under very difficult and stressful conditions, the quality of care was not affected.
Jodi McCaffrey is the Director of New Business Development Marketing for Emergency Medical Associates. Ms. McCaffrey joined the company in 2010, bringing 15 years of healthcare public relations, communications and marketing experience. Previous roles include serving as manager of publications and web development for Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, N.J., and editor at Health Resources Publishing, Manasquan, N.J., publisher of more than 25 industry-related monthly newsletters. She has extensive experience in web content creation, social media strategy, publication development, public relations and internal and external communications.
Ms. McCaffrey holds a master’s degree in corporate and public communication from Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J., and a bachelor’s degree in English/creative writing from Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Public Relations Society of America and Healthcare Marketing and Planning Society of New Jersey.