(Photo by Tracey Boyd)
(Photo by Tracey Boyd)
The tree crashed into the roof and blocked the doorway — barricading the family inside. “We couldn’t get out,” she said. “The tree was completely blocking the door.”
Charley and her family were able to maneuver themselves out of the house through a small opening between the tree and the door. Once outside, she realized they wouldn’t be able to return for a while. “The tree had taken down the electrical wires as well,” she said. “That meant no heat and no electricity.”
No heat, no lights, no place to live, and still, the next day, Charley went to work. The dedication and selflessness of nurses such as Charley and many other healthcare workers in the New York/New Jersey Metro region who, despite their own dire circumstances, continued to care for patients during and after the storm have not gone unnoticed. Charitable funds and temporary housing arrangements have been set up to assist displaced healthcare workers, some of whom lost everything in the storm.
Long Island-based NuHealth System has made unoccupied housing units on the campus of its Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y., available for use to 38 employees and their families who have suffered devastating personal losses as a result of Sandy.
Charley, a nurse manager in the surgical ICU and PACU at NUMC, heard about NuHealth’s offer from her supervisor, Linda Condon, RN. “She asked me if she could apply for housing for me,” Charley said. “I then got a call from human resources telling me I was selected.”
At a news conference Nov. 13 announcing the housing program, Charley and fellow nurses Linda Donnelly, RN, and Linda Tilton, RN, residents of Long Beach and Island Park, N.Y., respectively, discussed their harrowing experiences and expressed their gratitude.
The apartments will be home to about 80 people until they find permanent accommodations. A situation like this “changes your world,” said Arthur A. Gianelli, president/CEO of NuHealth.
“There are so many who work for this organization who lost homes, cars ... yet they came to work and helped our patients, never letting show what they were dealing with,” he said.
CSEA Local 830 is providing cots and linens for the apartments, and Island Harvest, a local food bank, has offered to provide the initial food supply for the families to help them get settled.
Raising funds, raising spirits
North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., raised about $2.3 million for a relief fund to be used primarily to assist employees’ families devastated by the storm and to provide temporary housing for some.
“Considering how so many North Shore-LIJ employees care for their patients during their critical hours of need, we’re proud to step up and take care of our colleagues when they need it most,” said Michael Dowling, president and CEO of North Shore-LIJ, in a news release announcing the fund.
Michelle Ignaciuk, RN, BSN, a pediatric ICU nurse at NS-LIJ’s Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., is just one of the employees who took advantage of the temporary housing. Ignaciuk, also a Long Beach resident, was on vacation at the time Sandy hit. In the days after the storm, she said, she wasn’t allowed to go into the city because of the immense devastation. “It was just awful to see what was happening to Long Beach,” she said. “When they finally let us go back, I found out my apartment was fine, but the building itself was no longer structurally sound.” After staying with her brother in Brooklyn, Ignaciuk heard about NS-LIJ’s employee disaster relief fund and gave them a call. “I’m so lucky that the only thing I lost was housing, temporarily,” she said. “So many people I work with have lost their homes and cars. It eases a large burden to have an employer like NS-LIJ who provides this kind of help.”
About $2 million of the fund are proceeds from Lenox Hill Autumn Ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
Proceeds typically go toward the hospital’s capital projects, yet Dowling decided to redirect this year’s proceeds to the employee relief fund and other charities supporting hurricane victims. In addition to the fund, NSLIJ employees have contributed more than 1,000 vacation hours —137 business days — to their colleagues who will need to take time off to try to get their lives back in order.
Help across the area
The Hurricane Sandy Health Care Employee Relief Fund was established in a cooperative effort by the Healthcare Association of New York State, the Greater New York Hospital Association, the American Hospital Association and the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council to help healthcare workers affected by Sandy. According to a news release, the contributions will be managed by the United Hospital Fund and will provide direct assistance to employees affected by the storm. Funds raised will be distributed through hospitals and healthcare organizations.
This fund will assist healthcare workers in hard-hit Long Island coastal communities such as Long Beach and Island Park. Many of the staff at the Long Beach (N.Y.) Medical Center and its nursing home live in those cities and have been dealt a double blow, according to Faye Duda, RN, MPS, CNO at Long Beach. “It’s heartbreaking to see the impact this disaster has had on so many of our staff,” she said. “Many people across Long Island have suffered devastating losses because of the storm, but the effects are even more tragic for employees ... who not only have suffered the loss of cars, possessions, and in many cases their homes, but they are also losing their jobs, and with that their health benefits.”
In addition to their losses, Duda said, many are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. “Without a means of transportation, a phone number at which they can be reached, or a permanent home, it becomes extremely difficult to commit to a job. These relief funds are desperately needed and will go a long way to bringing some semblance of normal life to our struggling employees.”
Tracey Boyd is a regional reporter.
To comment, email editorNY@nurse.com.