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HHC’s CNE: Communication, preparation key amid disasters such as Sandy

Monday December 3, 2012
Lauren Johnston, RN
Lauren Johnston, RN
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Superstorm Sandy in late October left residents in the New York/New Jersey Metro region with billions of dollars in damage to personal property, millions of homes without power and more than 100 deaths.

The storm also left behind lessons for nurses and healthcare facilities in the region.

Lauren Johnston, RN, MPA, NEA-BC, FACHE, the corporate CNE for New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, said her nursing staff and hospital administrators focused on communicating before, during and after the storm.

"Communication is key," Johnston told Nurse.com. "We worked within the command center structure of each hospital and the corporation. Every day, twice a day, since the Friday before the storm hit, we had conference calls among all the facility leadership, which includes the chief nurses. I also held separate conference calls with the chief nursing officers from each site. We shared information, status updates, needs and concerns. By the weekend after the storm, the calls became daily unless an issue required resolution."

HHC’s New York City facilities were among some of the hardest hit in the region.

Hundreds of patients were evacuated because of flooding at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan. Evacuations also took place at Brooklyn’s Coney Island Hospital.

"Before the storm, you must make sure you’re ready," Johnston said. "We moved some of the high-risk patients in advance of the storm. Once the storm hits you are managing the situation in the moment, keeping patients and staff safe."

During a natural disaster such as Sandy, however, communication can be challenging.

"You have to be prepared to communicate without telephones and the Internet, often using radios," she said. "When we were doing the evacuation at Coney Island, they had no phone service. We were sending paper medical records and instructions with the patients. We also kept a very specific list of where everybody went, to make sure we could notify families where to find their loved ones. With the more critical patients, critical care patient staff went with them."

Johnston also offered the following tips to nurses, whom she said should:

Refresh skills on how to administer IVs without pumps and know how to count actual drip rates.

Be prepared to carry patients down the stairs when there is no elevator service. "At Bellevue, we evacuated after the storm, so the National Guard was there to assist. But that is not always the case. Get the equipment and drill with it."

Make sure to keep personal demographics up-to-date in their system.

Keep communicating with staff, using all methods available — official and unofficial. The absence of information can cause speculations to run wild and can be at the root of questionable conclusions being reached.

Have emergency plans in place for their homes in case they are required to stay at work as a result of transportation or patient issues. This seems like a standard practice, but once needed, plans frequently will be nonexistent or collapse.

In the wake of the storm, Johnston also encouraged nurses to "celebrate your heroes large and small. They walk among us, doing the job day in and day out."


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