Organizing Chaos: Hospital Evacuation During Hurricane Sandy

The results of a study my colleagues and I conducted on the topic of the hospital evacuations that occurred during Hurricane Sandy in New York City was just published in Annals of Emergency Medicine. Our study was focused on understanding the impact that the evacuations of Bellevue and NYU Langone had on the hospitals tasked with absorbing the displaced patients and the subsequent patient surge caused by the months-long absence of these 2 major Manhattan medical centers.

Some of our important findings included:

  • Hospital emergency managers viewed themselves as part of a coalition and act accordingly (i.e. turn to each other for help)
  • Moving complex patients at tertiary centers required a lot of communication between physicians adept at managing such patients
  • Utilizing out-of-state ambulances (as was done when FEMA-contracted ambulances were brought in) posed logistical problems because of unfamiliarity with the city and its hospitals
  • Planning for special populations is crucial (e.g. dialysis patients, methadone patients)
  • Sustained surge required hospitals to remove slack in the system and convert open-space into patient care areas
  • Credentialing of displaced physicians was challenging, but feasible
  • Hurricane Irene conditioned the response

Our hope is that the study will help inform how hospitals plan for evacuations and other catastrophic health events in the future and serve as the basis for making an unavoidably chaotic process as smooth as possible.