Two Days in the Life: New York Methodist Hospital and Hurricane Sandy

Oct 31, 2012

Brooklyn, NY

The Hospital braced for the hurricane on Monday evening.

As staff and patients of New York Methodist Hospital (NYM) switched on their televisions Tuesday morning, there was a shared sense of disbelief and grief at the havoc that Hurricane Sandy had brought to New York City. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power; catastrophic damage and flooding in each of the five boroughs; friends and family whose houses were leveled by the storm.

And here the Hospital stood, with barely a scratch.

Without a doubt, much of it was due to luck. NYM is perched in eastern Park Slope, almost 100 feet above sea level, so it has avoided the flooding that devastated other areas of Brooklyn. The main Hospital building is a literal house of bricks, unyielding to the 80 mile-per-hour wind gusts that buffeted the city. And, despite multiple backup generators at the ready, the Hospital's electricity never flickered for an instant. However, what really brought NYM through the storm was the quick action and dedication of the thousands of employees who prioritized the Hospital in the days leading up to Sandy, and who worked throughout the worst of the storm.

doctors working in hospital

All hands were on deck in NYM's Emergency Department throughout the storm.

The Hospital commenced emergency operations at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Staff members who provided direct patient care, support of patient care, and environmental and facilities management at the Hospital reported to work as usual, overnight bags and changes of clothes in tote. Many employees who lived in Manhattan arrived hours before their shifts began due to the impending MTA shutdown. Others climbed aboard shuttle buses that NYM dispatched throughout Brooklyn to bring staff members to work, even as Sandy was poised to strike. The Hospital also took in several patients who had been evacuated from New York Downtown Hospital in the hours before the bridges closed.

"Today, we're thanking our good fortune that the Hospital was unscathed by the storm," said Mark J. Mundy, the Hospital's president and CEO, "However, I've worked at this Hospital for almost 23 years, and the staff never ceases to amaze me. Most of the men and women who work here live in New York City, and of course, shared a great deal of concern for their homes, friends, and loved ones. But they came to work at the Hospital and the mood throughout the buildings remained upbeat even when Sandy hit us hardest."

a woman holding a baby

Anna Guttormsgaard holds Benjamin (who arrived at the height of Hurricane Sandy, 7:51 p.m. Monday night), as her husband Michael leans in to give his newborn son a kiss.

In the Emergency Department, staff members were on hand throughout the hurricane as ambulances arrived. In the Labor and Delivery unit, physicians and midwives delivered 11 babies during the height of the storm, including some that were diverted from Manhattan hospitals. Several new mothers reflected on the experience the next day. "There were trees whipping around outside of the delivery room," said Anna Guttormsgaard, whose son, Benjamin, was born at 7:51 p.m. on Monday evening. "We don't know how the Hospital is 'normally,' but despite the hurricane, it was very, very positive."

Rebecca Flood, R.N., senior vice president for nursing administration, echoed Ms. Guttormsgaard's sentiment. "There's no one person, or even team of people, that I can pinpoint as most deserving of praise. We have almost a thousand nurses working at NYM, and their collective ability to pull together throughout the hurricane was astonishing."

On Wednesday morning, the mood at NYM was both upbeat and somber. Downed trees still blocked some of Park Slope's streets. Many of the homes of NYM employees were without power. Several staff members who live in other boroughs were yet to be able to return home. But being able to focus on helping patients was perhaps the best kind of "distraction" from the continual influx of footage filling the airwaves.

The lines stretched out the door as NYM provided free breakfast and lunch for employees on Tuesday.

"It's unfair to say that, in our storm response, NYM is somehow unique in New York, because this city and its residents have a phenomenal ability to pull together during the toughest of times," said Mr. Mundy. "However, it's very gratifying to see that this Hospital, and its employees, can count themselves among the many who have responded to Hurricane Sandy with determination and unwavering resolve, who are ready to rebuild and recover as Sandy leaves us behind."

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