Sandy Created Perfect Storm in Area Emergency Rooms

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Super-storm Sandy created challenges for caregivers in local hospitals. Photo Credit: Courtesy Northern Westchester Hospital

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – While super-storm Sandy wreaked havoc and created a wide swath of destruction throughout the region, local hospitals experienced another kind of flood: visitors to the emergency room.

Kristen Lawton, director of emergency services at Northern Westchester Hospital, saw an “absolute increase in patients and activity as a result of the storm – for all kinds of concerns and for all ages, from those who were unable to see their physicians for simple follow-up appointments to patients who were supposed to have casts removed to patients needing immediate care.”

“It was a perfect storm, “ said Dr. Michael Carius, chief of the emergency department at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. “Doctors’ offices began shutting down Monday in preparation for the storm, and no medical offices or clinics were open by Tuesday.”

At which point, he said, there was an “avalanche” of patients coming into the Emergency Room through Wednesday.

Lawton added that, in addition to storm-related injuries such as those sustained from falling debris, the emergency room began seeing patients who were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators that had been running indoors. That, she said, was consistent with those of other emergency departments in the region.

“When something like this happens again,” she said, “People need to remember to put their generators outside their homes.”

Although NWH never lost power, the facility did, said Lawton, “Move to generator power for some time.” And staff, she said decided to cancel all elective surgeries during the brunt of the crisis.

Additionally, said Lawton, many hospital staff-members left their families to take on the challenge of more patients and fewer regular staff, many of whom were unable to travel to the hospital during and directly following the storm.

“It was amazing to see everyone rise to the occasion,” she said.

There was also the issue of what to do with what Lawton and caregivers referred to as the “worried well.” Lawton said the hospital recognized that the “community could quite possibly not have power for days and also it became quite cold.” Because of this, said Lawton, hospital officials reached out to the local chapter of Red Cross.

“We met with them and both decided to relocate Red Cross headquarters to Chappaqua crossing, which provided space for at least 100 members of the community to use, and if needed we could expand," she said.

Carius said an overflow of patients remains not only in doctors’ offices, some of which are still closed due to a lack of electricity, but in the ER as well. “There is a backlog of urgent care for primary physicians, as well as an overflow for downed clinics as well.”

Hurricane Sandy, said Carius, “Incapacitated our normal capacity.”

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