By Sandra Basu
Washington – Hurricane Sandy, when it hit the northeast in October took a huge toll on the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System’s Manhattan facility, which continued to be closed from storm damage as of early this month.
“The damage at the Manhattan campus is extensive,” Martina A. Parauda, director of the medical center, said in a written statement last month. “The building is structurally sound, but not safe for staff or patients. It will take some time for us to repair the electrical and mechanical systems, but we will be back.”
Although the facility was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, there was some good news. No patients were in the building at the time the storm. Unlike NYU Langone Medical Center, which evacuated patients during the storm, and Bellevue Hospital, which evacuated patients after the storm, the Manhattan VA facility had evacuated patients before the storm to neighboring VA facilities, including the Brooklyn, Bronx and Montrose facilities.
“In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, I want you to know that I am very proud of our VA employees who proactively took measures to guarantee veterans’ and VA employees’ safety before and after the storm arrived,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told employees in an open letter posted Nov. 7 on the New York Harbor Healthcare System website.
Shinseki said it would “take time for utility companies and VA to repair the damage and resume normal operations” but that they would do so “as quickly as possible.”
“Thank you for your patience, for your dedication, and for your selflessness in doing everything possible to best serve veterans of the New York City Metropolitan area during these challenging conditions,” he told VA employees. “As frustrating as these difficulties are for us, please bear in mind that they are even more difficult for the veterans we are privileged to serve.”
The storm bore down on the East Coast, leaving Maryland and the District of Columbia relatively unscathed, while areas to the north, such as New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, bore the brunt of its fury. By a week after the storm, all VA facilities in those areas except the Manhattan location were fully operational.
Concerned by earlier reports that they could be near the bull’s-eye of the storm, VA facilities, including in Maryland, were grateful to have dodged a bullet.
“We were fortunate. Luckily, the storm did not come in a path that was a direct hit for us,” R. David Edwards, chief of public and community relations for the VA Maryland Healthcare System, told U.S. Medicine.
The Manhattan facility was not so lucky and experienced flooding in the basement and ground floor during the storm. The flooding resulted in failure of electrical switches, mechanical systems, steam and the fire-suppression system. In addition, clinical equipment pieces, including a magnetic-resonance-imaging unit used in outpatient clinic areas, also were destroyed.
Last month, VA said the bulk of floodwaters had been removed from the facility and a generator deployed from a facility in Rhode Island utilized for electricity while debris removal continued.
“VA officials continue to assess the damage and no timeline for repairs have been established. All employees have been relocated to the Brooklyn VA medical center, St. Albans Community Living Center, and other facilities located throughout the VA healthcare network,” a statement from the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System explained on its Facebook page.
Parauda also reported on the facility’s website that VA had opened an additional inpatient ward at the St. Albans campus to accommodate veterans who require inpatient care and would be doing the same at Brooklyn. In most cases, these new wards would be staffed by Manhattan Campus staff, she said.
In addition, an emergency prescription-refill program was established to aid New York Harbor Healthcare System patients whose supply was depleted or nearly depleted. Veterans were told they could receive a 10-day supply of VA prescribed medication. The system could be accessed by going to any big chain pharmacy with a veteran’s ID card and medication bottle with label showing a refill date within the last 90 days. The program did not apply to controlled drugs.