Clipboard: Mass. hospitals aid with Sandy recovery, plan for future floods

Hundreds of patients were evacuated from two large hospitals in New York this week after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power at the facilities and back-up power sources failed.

NYU Langone Medical Center shuttled patients out as the storm buffeted the city. Bellevue Hospital’s fuel pumps, located in a flooded basement, reportedly shorted out Wednesday, and staff there worked to evacuate hundreds of patients.

Sheri Fink of ProPublica, who is working on a book about hospital preparedness and natural disaster, writes compellingly about the planning for Sandy and the fallout. Her colleague, Charles Ornstein, looks at the recent history of hospital power failures—in Katrina in 2005, and in San Diego and Connecticut last year—and asks why? Ornstein writes:

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Experts say such failures are troubling but not entirely surprising. Dr. Arthur Kellermann founded the emergency department at Emory University and headed it from 1999 to 2007. Now, he’s Paul O’Neill-Alcoa Chair in Policy Analysis at RAND Corporation think tank.

The other night, as the NYU evacuation was unfolding, he tweeted, “Hospital preparedness and well-functioning backup systems are a costly distraction from daily business, until they are needed. Like now.”

In Boston, at least one team of disaster relief workers, from Massachusetts General Hospital, headed to New York to help. Surely, back home, hospital officials were asking, what if? What if Boston hadn’t been spared the worst of Sandy? And what about next time?

Beth Daley and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff looked at how city and hospital officials are planning for more intense flooding expected with climate change. They write:

The Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, opening in 2013, positioned its ground floor and all openings into the garage below, 2½ feet above the current 500-year flood plain elevation to safeguard against sea level rise. They have put key electrical equipment on the rooftop penthouse and even installed operable windows in all patient rooms for ventilation in case they lose power. Massachusetts General Hospital, meanwhile, has moved emergency generators and equipment to high ground and has planned to do so for other campus buildings.

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