Danielle Laraque, MD, FAAP
Chair, Department of Pediatrics
Vice-President, Maimonides Infants and Children's Hospital of Brooklyn
Professor of Pediatrics, New York University
Super storm Sandy in New York affected thousands of children, families and health care professionals. Entire communities have been swept away; hundreds of thousands of families lost electricity and heat; thousands needed to evacuate flooded homes and spend time in shelters. Others were stranded in their high rises, lost power and were stuck in high floors without heat or clean water. Schools were closed and children and families were overwhelmed with this unprecedented event. Health care delivery systems, community resources and other supports were completely disrupted. Major hospitals had to evacuate hundreds of patients –from the smallest premature babies to adults post-cardiac surgery. Transportation was impeded. Lives were lost with the avalanche of water that quickly engulfed the area at heights not seen before.
Yet, there is much to be thankful for. While we will mourn those who were lost in the storm, from early counts, more than 75 individuals including children lost their lives, the storm also brought incredible responses in neighbors helping neighbors, communities rallying to support each other, and for us at Maimonides Medical Center, a sense of unity that was remarkable. From the early stages of the storm, many chose to stay and sleep at the hospital fearing that if they left they could not return to the hospital to be of service. Ancillary staff, health care professionals from nurses, physicians, case managers, pharmacists, dentists, psychiatrists, and many more responded to the call – reported promptly to work despite their own challenges. People were kind to each other asking not only about the work at hand, but how individuals were faring in their homes and neighborhoods. Many had, in fact, been displaced, were living with friends or relatives, had lost their homes, cars, other possessions, or were going home to cold and dark homes. MMC’s response was well-coordinated through the Incident Command Center. Communication through the command center extended from the emergency department to the outpatient locations of our facility to the inpatient services of the intensive care units, and floors. Units were opened to accommodate the many additional patients who could not be cared for by hospitals that had to be evacuated. The needs of nursing home patients and patients needing dialysis were met with careful and prompt planning. Our focus was family-centered, reuniting the babies transferred from Bellevue Hospital with their families and communicating with our colleagues to maintain continuity of care.
As we celebrate this Thursday, sharing a Thanksgiving meal with our families and friends, I invite us to reflect on the many things for which we give thanks. A compassionate community of workers and health professionals who came together to care for each other. We will need to attend not only to the acute needs of our patients and co-workers, but to the long-term psychological needs typical following a natural disaster. We have learned much following 9/11, Katrina and other disasters regarding preparation, recovery, and resilience. Please find below links to the many resources that might be useful to you as you care for your patients, colleagues, friends and family.
Preparedness and Recovery Recommendations
AAP Home Page Children and Disasters Site
Talking to Children About Disasters
Protecting Children After a Hurricane
Feelings Need Check Ups Too