Thousands of nursing home residents in Coney Island and the Rockaways were trapped inside with limited supplies and without power when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, all because of a call from health officials and the mayor that told them to stay put, according to the New York Times.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, acting on the advice of his aides and those of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, recommended that health officials tell nursing home and adult home residents that an evacuation would not be mandatory.
“No one gets why we weren’t evacuated,” Yisroel Tabi, a worker at Ocean Promenade nursing home in Queens, told the paper. “We wouldn’t have exposed ourselves to dealing with that situation.”
More than 40 nursing and adult homes in flood-prone areas lost heat and power, and at least 29 facilities in Queens and Brooklyn were severely flooded.
And while the paper says that no deaths were reported, it still took more than three days for the Fire Department, the National Guard and ambulance crews from around the country to rescue over 4,000 nursing home and 1,500 adult home residents.
Residents, many of whom require round-the-clock care and specialized medicine, were taken to shelters, or nursing homes as far away as Albany. Many lacked medical charts and pills, and their families often didn’t know where they had been moved to, according to the Times.
“You didn’t know who was diabetic, who had a heart condition; it was dangerously chaotic,” Dr. Josephine Tsai, a surgeon who worked at the Park Slope Armory, told the paper.
But health officials maintain that the choice to not evacuate felt right at the time.
Linda Gibbs, a deputy mayor, told the Times that she “would defend all the decisions and the actions” by health officials during the storm.
City health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley believed the storm would be no worse than Tropical Storm Irene, and on Oct. 26, made the initial decision not to evacuate care facilities along the coast.
Three days later, Sandy touched down in New York City.
State and city health officials are now planning a full investigation into how things were handled before the storm, but are also partly shifting the blame to nursing home management, saying that despite their own recommendations to not evacuate, nursing homes should have left if they felt it was necessary.
And while the Times mentions no lawsuits brought forth against city health officials or nursing home management, a New Orleans court recently awarded claims to families of patients who died after a hospital had failed to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina.