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Serious Caregiving & Planning Problem at Hospital Following Hurricane

The Huffington Post reported recently on troubling news regarding planning (or lackethereof) at a hosptial in New York in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. In all the talk about the mass power outages, subway floodings, property damage, and more, the effect on our most vulnerable is often given little attention. That include medical patients in hospitals.

Of course, it is absolutely incumbent upon all medical facilities to have emergency preparedness plans in place so that care is not sacrificied when things go wrong as a result of unexpected events. However, according to the recent report, one facility was forced to evacuate patients unexpectedly after the power went out and several back-up generators failed. Obviously access to electricity is critical for these facilities, because many patients’ lives literally rely on the functioning of the medical equipment used in their care. That is particularly true for patients who are on ventilators or may rely on extra outside oxygen support. Many other patients may need IV medication. On top of that, when the evacuation took place, it was critical for medical records and charts to follow each patient. It is easy to see how these sort of situations could descend into chaos and, without careful work every step of the way, patients might be harmed.

Employees familiar with the situation reported that the evacuation took all night on the Monday of the storm and half of the following day. It was an “exhausting” but “methodical” process. Apparently at least 300 residents were shifted to nearby facilities. That group including some very sick and vulnerable patients, like 20 newborn babies in the intensive care unit. No doubt the front-line care workers, nurses, students, assistants, volunteers, and others who aided in the effort did the best they could to handle what was undoubtedly a stressful situation.

However, in the aftermath of the storm and the chaos, many have questioned how the situation arose in the first place.

For one thing, why wasn’t the hospital evacuated? Those familiar with the situation report that the facility was evacuated last year, in 2011, when Hurricane Irene hit the area. But not this time. One nurse at the facility summarized by questioning: ” I don’t know why we waited so long to evacuate. […] Everything was okay in terms of people working together, and us having enough staff to complete the transfer. But it seems like we waited too long, especially with all the news we had about the storm.”

Legal Accountability
As a legal matter, attorneys would likely advise the only way that any consequences might be at play are if a patient suffered actual medical harm as a result of the failure to properly plan for the coming storm. This particular news article does not indicate if the delay in evacuating was responsible for any specific medical injury. However, no matter what, the situation is a testament to the reality that beyond providing reasonable medical care at all times, these facilites have an obligation to ensure other procedural safety steps are in place. That includes preventing falls, ensuring bed rails don’t cause injury, and other basic caregiving protocols.

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