NY Mayor Angered By Sandy-Spurred Hospital Evacuations

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NEW YORK (AP)
— Evoking harrowing memories of Hurricane Katrina, 300 patients were
evacuated floor by floor from a premier hospital that lost generator
power at the height of superstorm Sandy.

Rescuers
and staff at New York University Langone Medical Center, some making 10
to 15 trips down darkened stairwells, began their mission Monday night,
the youngest and sickest first, finishing about 15 hours later.

Among the first out were 20 babies in neonatal intensive care, some on battery-powered respirators.

“Everyone
here is a hero,” Dr. Bernard Birnbaum, a senior vice president at Tisch
Hospital, the flagship at NYU, told exhausted crews as he released all
but essential employees late Tuesday morning. “Thank you, thank you,
thank you.”

More than two dozen ambulances
from around the city lined up around the lower Manhattan block to
transport the sick to Mount Sinai Hospital, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center, St. Luke's Hospital, New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell
Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Hospital.

Margaret Chu, 36, of Manhattan, gave birth to a son, Cole, shortly before noon Monday.

“Then,
a couple of hours later, things got a little hairy. The electricity
started to flicker and the windows got shaky,” she said from LIJ's Lenox
Hill, where she was transported after generators failed and NYU was
plunged into darkness.

Chu, accompanied by
husband Gregory Prata, was able to walk 13 flights into a waiting
ambulance with help from staff and first responders lighting the way by
flashlight. She said other women who had given birth during the storm
were carried down on sleigh-like gurneys.

“Everybody was pretty calm. I would call it organized chaos,” she said.

Meanwhile,
other New York hospitals canceled outpatient appointments and elective
surgeries. And several closed and evacuated patients, including New York
Downtown Hospital, a Manhattan campus of the VA New York Harbor
Healthcare System and other NYU-affiliated facilities. Coney Island
Hospital was evacuating Tuesday afternoon.

Mayor
Michael Bloomberg was clearly angry about the NYU Medical Center crisis
when he addressed reporters late Monday, saying hospital officials had
assured the city they had working backup power.

Last
year, NYU evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irene on the order of city
officials, spokeswoman Allison Clair said. “This year we were not told
to evacuate by the city.”

Without power, there
are no elevators so patients – some of whom were being treated for
cancer and other serious illnesses – were carefully carried down
staircases. As the evacuation began, gusts of wind blew their blankets
while nurses and other staff huddled around the sick on gurneys, some
holding IVs and other equipment.

Luz Martinez,
42, of Roosevelt Island off midtown Manhattan in the East River, was
home recuperating from a cesarean section when she got her first inkling
that her 3-week-old daughter was being transferred out of NYU's
neonatal intensive care.

The baby, Emma, had
been born prematurely. Martinez had been calling the hospital for
regular updates but at one point Monday night, the phones were busy
every time she called. Then she heard Bloomberg on television talking
about the evacuation and soon after lost power at home.

“I went crazy. I wanted to come to the hospital,” Martinez said.

She
and her husband hopped in the car but could find no way into Manhattan
because of storm damage and bridge closings. That's when NYU called her
on her cellphone to say Emma was being taken to Mount Sinai.

But
the terrified parents couldn't get there, either. They called Mount
Sinai through the wee hours for regular updates and finally reached
their baby around noon Tuesday.

“It was a nightmare,” Martinez said by phone. “I've been doing a lot of crying.”

Emma
is doing fine. Martinez praised the staff at both hospitals. “They all
handled everything as smoothly as they could,” she said.

NYU
sent home about 100 of its 400 patients earlier Monday to lighten its
load, starting the evacuation of the remaining 300 patients at about
7:30 p.m. when backup generators began to fail, Clair said. There were
no injuries during relocation.

The scene was
reminiscent of hospital evacuations in New Orleans after Katrina, with
patients being carried down stairs on stretchers because elevators were
out, and nurses squeezing oxygen bags for them because of lack of power
to run breathing machines.

The difference is
that in New Orleans, patients were trapped in flooded hospitals; in New
York, dozens of ambulances could get through to move patients to safety.

The
hospital blamed the severity of Sandy and higher-than-expected storm
surge that flooded its basement but had little else to say beyond a
short statement emailed to reporters after the evacuation was complete.

“At
this time, we are focusing on assessing the full extent of the storm's
impact on all of our patient care, research and education facilities,”
the statement said.

Most of the power outages
in lower Manhattan, where Tisch is located, were due to an explosion at
an electrical substation, Consolidated Edison said. It wasn't clear
whether flooding or flying debris caused the explosion, said John
Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Con Edison.

At
NYU, sporadic telephone service made it difficult for the hospital to
notify relatives where patients were taken. It relied instead on
receiving hospitals to notify families.

Until
the generators failed, Chu considered herself and her new baby out of
harm's way. By the time she was evacuated, the streets were eerily
silent and the night sky lit up by emergency lights of waiting
ambulances.

“My son will appreciate this someday,” she said.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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