When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast nearly two years ago, hospitals found themselves dealing with surges in patients, lost power supplies and employees who couldn’t get to work — problems that a new federal report finds they were not prepared to handle.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Inspector General Office released a study Wednesday on the emergency preparedness and response during the storm at 172 hospitals in the hardest-hit areas of New York, most of Connecticut and all of New Jersey.
The report, based on surveys of the hospitals and in-person visits to 10 of them, finds that 89 percent of them experienced “critical challenges,” such as electrical and communication failures or problems getting enough fuel or beds to meet their needs. The report did not list which hospitals had which problems, but several were reported at the time of the October 2012 storm.
The report finds that most of the hospitals were cited in the three years before the storm for deficiencies related to emergency preparedness and response. In many cases, the issues cited by accreditation organizations were exactly the same ones that caused problems during the storm.
When the storm came, nearly half of the hospitals had electrical problems. And half of those that lost power had problems with backup generators. At New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Center, for instance, the fuel pumps remained in the basement and flooded. The hospital was ultimately evacuated.
Hospitals also said that some workers were not properly trained or experienced in working in no-power environments, meaning nurses had to be trained on the fly to do tasks such as counting IV drips manually rather than relying on technology to do it.