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Storm stories: Nurses recall Superstorm Sandy memories a year later

Monday November 11, 2013
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Superstorm Sandy arrived along the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, and left behind damages galore. The storm leveled homes, flooded streets and buildings and caused billions of dollars in damage. Some hospitals and health systems lost power, sustained serious water damage and were forced to evacuate.

A year after the storm, nurses from around the region share their memories of the stormís fury and the inspirational, compelling and selfless acts of their nursing colleagues.


What was the most poignant moment during the storm?

Ann Marie Leichman, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, CNO, vice president for patient care services, The Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, N.J.
I was so impressed with the response of the Valley Health System staff during Superstorm Sandy. I watched our employees arrive for work carrying weekend bags and pillows without anyone having told them to be prepared to stay. The most poignant moment for me occurred during the height of the storm, when I walked around the hospital in the middle of the night and realized this wonderful staff ó who were sleeping in any available nook or cranny, including their cars ó had left their families behind to care for our patients. As each day passed, this and other incredible acts of selflessness touched me more and more. They were the heroes of our communities, putting their own needs on hold to ensure our patients and their families received the care they needed during this crisis. They will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Maureen White, RN, MBA, MEA-BC, FAAN, CNE, North Shore-LIJ
Health System
The most poignant moment during Superstorm Sandy came at 3 a.m. on Oct. 29 at Lenox Hill Hospital when the first ambulance arrived, transferring patients from an evacuating hospital. With little to no advance notice, the ED team, and subsequently the rest of the hospital, went into rapid triage mode, not knowing how many patients they were to receive, what types of patients they would receive or the stability of those patients. What they did know was these were patients who would be frightened, concerned and uncertain as to where they were going and what type of care they would receive. What they found when they arrived at Lenox Hill was a highly skilled, well-trained and compassionate team of caregivers who welcomed them with open arms, care and compassion. Within six hours, Lenox Hill admitted 86 patients in such a calm and composed manner, that, from the point of view of the patient, it seemed like any other day in their normal routine, which we all knew, from behind the scenes, it was not.

Geralyn McDonough, RN, BSN, MA, director of post-anesthesia care unit services, Mount Sinai Hospital, Manhattan
On the night of Hurricane Sandy, NYU Langone Medical Center conducted an emergency evacuation of critical-care patients from its medical, surgical and pediatric ICUs. As Mount Sinaiís critical care units were near capacity, the quickest and simplest way to receive and admit these patients was to accept them into two of our PACUs. Mount Sinai nurses worked quickly to prepare, and shortly after midnight the patients began arriving, one more critical than the next. Even as the weather wreaked havoc, staff nurses from both hospitals came together to meet the demands of this extraordinary challenge and ensure all the patients were transferred safely and cared for excellently. Within these moments of the storm, I not only felt proud of the nursing staff involved, but also of my profession. The compassion and dedication of the Mount Sinai and NYU Langone nurses is a testimony to the human spirit.


Who was the most memorable personality you encountered?

Patricia Attreed, RN, BSN, and Eden Espaldon, RN, BSN, ICU nurses, Beth Israel Medical Center, Brooklyn
Superstorm Sandy brought winds and tides devastating the entire community of Gerritsen Beach. Barbarann Harper, RN, a nurse in Beth Israel Brooklynís ICU whose home was one of the casualties of Sandyís path of destruction, worked that day as her home became submerged. In an effort to reach her home, she waded in chest-deep water to save her pets, a dog and a cat. She found a bulldozer being driven through the water and asked the driver to bring her to her home, but he was unable to get close enough.
Despite having her own destroyed home to deal with, she organized a relief center to collect donations of clothes and food to help neighbors who badly needed basic supplies. She rallied local restaurants and her husband, a wholesale food supplier, to donate needed food for the hungry. Through it all, she never lost her wonderful sense of humor and outgoing personality.

Barbara Ravida, RN, MSN, CCRN, ANP-BC, Nurse manager, Cardiac Progressive Care Unit, Beth Israel Medical Center Ė Petrie Division
Superstorm Sandy was a hospital administratorís worst nightmare. Mary Walsh, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, CEN, Beth Israelís senior vice president, patient care services, and CNO, rose to the occasion by overseeing every level of care and supporting staff while dealing with an extreme natural disaster. She did so with a level of calm that helped the staff conquer all the storm threw at them. She devoted five straight days doing both evening and day rounds and supporting both the Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses.
With hospital closures, limited electricity and no dialysis centers operating, Mary was instrumental in having the ED spring into action to deal with a rise of 49% patient intake.
Her efforts were applauded, yet she humbly said it was not the actions of one, but the efforts of many that helped BI rise to the occasion. She proposed that team efforts be recognized. We feel it is that ďdo-all-for-the-good-of-allĒ attitude that continues to inspire us.

Cathy Sullivan, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRN, Director, patient care services, Beth Israel Medical Center - Petrie Division
ďCharacter cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened.Ē ó Helen Keller
Fred Dunau, RN, BS, CCRN, a staff nurse in the cardiac surgery ICU at Beth Israelís Petrie Division, is a man of exceptional character. When others would need to leave to deal with the stormís destruction, he stayed. He was like a captain of a ship in a storm, going beyond all that was expected. Fredís thoughts were most certainly with his family as they dealt with extensive loss of property, but he was a man of character and a leader. Fred gave us cause to do more than we thought we could.
There was a couple of advanced age and need at the medical center during the storm. Fred gave his all for them. He worked 16 hours straight, slept briefly then worked another 12 hours. Fredís efforts went on for weeks with the disasterís aftermath. Sandy was a superstorm, but Fred is truly a superhero who made a lasting impression.


What programs, initiatives or committees went into action during the storm?

Ashley Dorfman, RN, BSN, assistant nurse manager, cardiothoracic surgery, Lenox Hill Hospital, Manhattan
Every institution has disaster processes in place. However, itís not often that these plans become a reality. One year ago, Superstorm Sandy struck the New York New Jersey Metro region and affected the most vulnerable areas of Manhattan. Lenox Hill, a member of North Shore-LIJ Health System, sprang into action, acting as a safe haven for neighboring hospitals suffering from power outages and flooding. The immense collaboration and solidarity among employees was remarkable.
As we reflect on the past and look forward to the future, it is evident that having this experience has made us a much stronger, cohesive entity that can rise above any obstacle that lies in our path. It is that unity we must recognize as what we have gained from this experience. Our efficient patient throughput, triaging, credentialing, nursing education, patient safety initiatives and commitment to service excellence would not be possible without the outstanding teamwork and patient-centered care we all work so hard to provide.

Jennifer DeWald, RN, emergency department, NewYork-Presbyterian/
Weill Cornell Medical Center, Manhattan
After 9/11 but before Superstorm Sandy, the ED at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center established a monthly disaster committee meeting.
Over the past year, our local and hospital-wide disaster planning groups have created evacuation plans, evacuation kits, a guide to setting up an off-site unit (military tent), a guide to using alternative spaces as patient care areas and a guide for dealing with the psychological impact of a disaster.
We have purchased walkie-talkies to improve communication throughout the hospital, especially during a power outage. We have also purchased headlamps in case we need to evacuate during a blackout. Preparing for multiple types of disasters is important for all hospitals. It is even more critical that we learn from each event to create a safe and solid team that participates in drills and planning.
Our staff showed up and stayed strong through the storm. I am proud to be a part of this team.

Elizabeth Vaas, RN, administrative nursing supervisor, St. Francis
Hospital, Roslyn, N.Y.
St. Francis Hospital is a member of Catholic Health Services of Long Island, and each hospital in the system has an emergency management plan to address and prepare for potential disasters.
A key component of the plan at St. Francis is to establish an Incident Command Center for communication during emergencies. During Superstorm Sandy, our center was open for approximately two weeks. St. Francis was on the receiving end of several critical-care patients from within our system, as well as patients from an area nursing home.
After the storm, a debriefing by our Environment of Care Committee revealed opportunity for improvement in the recording of event timelines so all personnel operating the command center would have easy access to the most current information.
A system-level debriefing looked at the challenges associated with loss of communication and data systems, which supported initiatives related to generator upgrades and redundancy of connectivity for clinical systems.
Additional post-storm initiatives included guidelines to ensure the integrity of medical records during patient transports, reviewing assessment requirements of oxygen-dependent patients from the community housed in acute care facilities and assuring adequate pharmaceutical supplies.
Despite the many challenges presented by the storm, the lessons learned help us prepare for future emergencies.

Barry Bottino is a regional editor and John Grochowski is a copy editor at Nurse.com.

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