At a time when other hospitals on Long Island were evacuating patients and struggling with power outages, Stony Brook University Hospital emerged from Hurricane Sandy just fine.
That's according to hospital CEO Dr. Reuven Pasternak, who said that the impact of the hurricane was indeed felt at SBUH, but not to the extent that it was felt in other places around Long Island: The hospital canceled elective surgeries and other procedures, which later led to some difficulties in rescheduling. The emergency room saw an increase in cases immediately following the storm. Stony Brook also took in patients from other hospitals that had to evacuate.
Two days before the "superstorm" hit, officials at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook University Hospital made the call to take those entities off the LIPA power grid and switch to their own power generation system – and it proved to be the difference, as they never lost power while thousands of local homes were cast in darkness.
"We kind of immunized ourselves," Pasternak said. "We isolated ourselves from the LIPA grid so we were totally on our own power. Because of that, when power went out in other areas, we were not directly affected."
Many faculty and staff actually stayed overnight at the hospital on air mattresses, Pasternak said. At the height of the storm, he said, SBUH had a little over 400 people staying on-site to be available for patient care.
"Fortunately we didn’t have any facilities issues, but if they had occurred we would have been prepared," said Pasternak, who lost power in his own East Setauket home for 10 days.
The hospital had received a shipment of gasoline from FEMA to make sure emergency vehicles and about 2,600 employees had enough fuel to get them through the gas crisis. Employees were given five gallons of gas each.
"It was available for about a day and a half, but it was enough to get people through until gasoline was readily available at the service stations," Pasternak said.
An important development during the hurricane was the communication that took place between SBUH and other area hospitals. "It has given us a good basis for expanding our ability to work together," the CEO said.
Another important development was the feeling of unity among the various parts of the hospital.
"It was a good opportunity for a lot of us who work on the administrative side to spend more time side-by-side with the clinical staff and the support staff," Pasternak said.
One improvement the administration is considering is transportation in the event of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. While the administration encouraged car pooling, Pasternak said a more sophisticated system is needed.
"We need to have available the ability to provide transportation to staff in an organized fashion," he said.
There is also a financial component to the impact of the hurricane.
"The result is we will have a fairly high expenditure of funds that were done to keep the hospital going," the CEO said. "We think it probably will be significant. We haven’t calculated this yet."