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Hurricane Sandy: Planning Mitigates Risk

November 1, 2012
by John DeGaspari
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Preparation, working with local officials helped one hospital weather the storm

As Hurricane Sandy pounded coastal areas, its enormous breadth put hospitals in jeopardy throughout the Tri-State region. In Newburgh, N.Y., located on the banks of the Hudson River about 60 miles north New York City, sustained winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour and gusts of 100 miles per hour downed trees and caused local power outages. Cletis Earle, vice president and CIO of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, a two-campus system with a 242-bed hospital in Newburgh and a second facility in nearby Cornwall, N.Y., described how his hospital fared during the storm and his view on disaster preparations.

Fortunately, St. Luke’s Cornwall escaped major damage, although the Cornwall facility switched to generator power after a power outage, Earle says. Neither facility experienced flooding. In preparation ahead of the storm, the hospital added extra critical care nursing staff; it also cancelled same-day surgeries and elective procedures, he says.

From an IT perspective, setting up redundancies are a key part of disaster preparation, Earle says. “There are several areas of redundancy you have to set up, including heath information system redundancy and hardware network connections,” he says. The hospital’s EHR (supplied by Meditech, Westwood, Mass.)  is used both for the inpatient hospital and the ED.

Even more important, he adds, is what he terms the “network topology,” allowing multi-point access. “If something goes wrong, you have the possibility of going out through different methods,” he says.

Before the storm, the hospital’s emergency management team met to prepare back-up plans for different types of scenarios, Earle says, adding that the hospital is in a location that is affected by adverse weather conditions. “We have a lot of meetings and a lot of mapping out of strategies, so that when these things occur, we have these drills already embedded,” he says.

Earle puts special emphasis on the close working relationship between hospital’s emergency management team and local officials. “In Orange County and the Hudson Valley area, the information that was shared was significant. They did a phenomenal job of sharing data and keeping everyone in the know as far as bridge closures and streets. It was a cooperative effort,” he says. “Everybody was very clear about the severity of this storm and how dangerous it was going to be, so it helped alleviate some of the unknowns.” 

As for lessons learned, from IT perspective, it’s not possible to completely eliminate all risks or account for every possible variable, Earle says; but years of preparation has paid off, and it’s important to know that it is going to continue and will be needed as healthcare moves forward.