Manhattan VA Evacuated Patients Before Sandy Hit

A patient from the VA Medical Center in Manhattan is wheeled to a waiting ambulance for transport to another hospital. More than 130 patients were evacuated from the building before Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials said the VA hospital in Manhattan suffered serious damage when Hurricane Sandy blew ashore last week, but all patients were moved in advance of the storm to other VA medical facilities.

“All VA facilities in [New York] are fully operational, to include Staten Island” except for the Manhattan location, said Josh Taylor, a VA spokesman.

In addition, VA medical centers in other states seriously affected by Sandy – New Jersey and Connecticut – also are fully operational, Taylor said.

More than 100 patients were moved from the Manhattan VA Medical Center to VA centers in Brooklyn, Bronx and Montrose, VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda said on Wednesday. Officials do not know how long before patients will be returned to Manhattan.

“Right now we’re only saying it will take ‘some time’ before patients can return and the hospital is operational,” she said.

The storm resulted in the hospital losing most of its electrical lighting in a building, damage to the pumps used for heating, flooded elevator shafts. and a non-working fire alarm system.

Officials are still trying to fully assess the damage and come up with an estimate of repair and replacement costs, Schuda said.

The VA in New York began moving patients out of the Manhattan hospital on Oct. 28, the day before Sandy came ashore in New Jersey.

Schuda said all employees on the day shift took part in the patient evacuation. Many accompanied patients to the receiving hospitals, she said.

But about 25 additional employees, supervisors and executives who staff the facility’s Incident Command Center, were also called in to help with the relocation. The actual transfers were carried out by contracted ambulance companies, she said.

Dr. Sheri Fink, who is also a journalist and author of War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival, reported that the VA had moved the last of its 132 patients out of the Manhattan building on Monday, but well before Sandy's arrival. It discharged those who could safely go home and transferred others to hospitals less threatened by rising waters.

She said the VA hospital’s evacuation contrasted with the chaotic relocation of patients from nearby New York University Hospital, which waited until 9:30 p.m. to begin moving people.

The VA’s New York Harbor System had prior experience with evacuating patients ahead of a storm, VA spokeswoman Jennifer Sammartino said in a Nov. 5 press statement. It also evacuated its patients ahead of Hurricane Irene last year.

“The first priority in these situations is always patient and employee safety,” she said.

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