We are all well aware of the path of destruction that the recent hurricane brought to the Atlantic coast and the northeast. Luckily, here in Syracuse, we were spared most of the ill effects of the very high winds, rain, flooding, and fire that we have all seen on the news.
In the wake of the storm, the evacuation of patients from two of New York’s largest and best known hospitals was a prominent news story. Both NYU Langone and Bellevue Hospital evacuated many patients after their infrastructure failed. The evacuation of hundreds of patients requiring ongoing acute care raises important questions and lessons for us here in Syracuse.
What if there was an infrastructure failure at one of our hospitals in the Central New York region? I am hard-pressed to believe that we have the capacity in the region to move patients out of one of our hospitals to another site. We have our New York State Fair facility, which could serve as a receiving area, a quasi Emergency Department, and a short-term holding facility. The way our hospitals are generally full, however, we would have great difficulty moving hundreds of patients and finding available in-patient space. As a community, we need to better plan for such event.
The recent events in New York also demonstrate the importance of emergency preparedness activities. Having an emergency preparedness group in the hospital, having regular drills for the kinds of events we might expect, and having full understanding and participation by our staff of how they might react in such an emergency, are important components of “being prepared”. While these exercises sometimes seem cumbersome, they are the basis for the quick and effective action that we saw in New York City this past week, with massive evacuations and no reported ill-effects on patients who depended on these hospitals for their care.
Finally, the recent infrastructure failures remind me of the enormous work that goes on in the background to ensure the efficient operation of University Hospital every day. While we often focus on nurses at the bedside, personnel in the operating room, and physicians providing highly complex and technical care, there is an infrastructure that needs to be maintained for all of these patient care activities to be successful. There is a cadre of highly trained, skilled, and dedicated employees who ensure that every day the lights come on, the plumbing works, air is handled properly, elevators get us where we need to go, oxygen is delivered as needed, waste is carried away, as well as numerous other physical plant and maintenance activities that are critical to our function. One only has to tour the seventh floor of the East Tower with all of its air-handling equipment, valves, and controls, or meander past the huge transformer pad that sits between Weiskotten Hall and the VA Hospital to understand the enormity and complexity of our infrastructure system. As we have built additions to the hospital, and as we add new equipment now and into the future, these day to day tasks become more complex.
In the face of such a natural disaster, and the impact it has on New York hospitals and their patients, it is a good time to reflect on the fine work done by individuals here at Upstate University Hospital, to think about how we prepare for untoward events, and to reassess our role as a healthcare system in the much broader community of Central New York.
Our best wishes to those who have been impacted by the storm. While we hope nothing similar ever happens here, we must be prepared to step up and care for our patients in such a difficult time with the same level of dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm we have seen from the healthcare workers in the New York City area.