By KIRAN SURY
One year after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York City, the Health and Hospitals Corp. is still repairing the damage to the city’s hospital system and estimates that over $800 million will be needed to fully recover from the impact of the storm.
Bellevue Hospital, Coney Island Hospital, Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility, and Metropolitan Hospital Center were the most badly damaged, according to Director of Media Relations Ian Michaels.
Hurricane Sandy caused a water surge that sent millions of gallons of water into hospital basements, where crucial power generators were stored. Much of the reconstruction has focused on installing temporary flood barriers around the hospitals and raising important electrical equipment above harm’s way. “It would be silly to just relocate new equipment back in the basement in the same place where it was vulnerable before,” Michaels said in a telephone interview.
Another complication of the storm was difficulty in keeping track of patient transfers as hospitals were forced to evacuate. In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the New York State Evacuation of Facilities in Disasters System, or e-FINDS. The city is taking part in the program, which will use barcode wristbands and an online database to quickly locate patients that have been moved to alternate locations.
The Health and Hospitals Corp. is also following a report by the city Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency that made several suggestions for safeguarding city hospitals, including new elevation requirements in construction codes and flood-proofing basements. The report’s strategy aims to “ensure critical providers’ operability through redundancy and the prevention of physical damage.” Essentially, the city is hoping that having backups for backups will reduce the incidence of total equipment failure during another storm.
In keeping with the report, the city hospital agency has also focused on long-term planning. “The biggest lesson is we need prepare not just for another Superstorm Sandy but for a storm of greater force and magnitude,” HHC President Alan Aviles said in an interview with ABC.
Plans include permanent floodwalls for Bellevue and Coney Island hospitals, as well as a new structure in the Coney Island parking lot to house electrical equipment and critical hospital wards. According the Michaels, the facility could cost over $300 million, so the city is applying for federal funding under section 406 of the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. This provides hazard mitigation funding for future storms and requires a cost-effectiveness analysis, which the city is doing.
Michaels stressed the importance of receiving this funding. “Long term these facilities are still vulnerable,” he said. “Were Sandy to recur tomorrow, Coney Island Hospital very likely would be flooded once again.”
Graphic: New York City Health and Hospitals Corp.