In Hurricane’s Wake, Decisions Not To Evacuate Hospitals Raise Questions

Sheri Fink | ProPublica | November 1, 2012

Now, in the late evening hours, the worst-case scenario was unfolding at the main campus of NYU's Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, which had lost much of its backup power at the height of the storm. Could North Shore-LIJ dispatch ambulances from its Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City to pick up four critically ill babies from the neo-natal intensive care unit?

New York City hospital and nursing home patients and their loved ones might reasonably have believed they were safe as Hurricane Sandy approached. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had exempted hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying "Zone A" areas of the city from his pre-storm evacuation order. Much thought and planning had gone into the decision to "shelter in place."

But anyone following the recent history of how hospitals and nursing homes have fared in American disasters had ample reason for concern. In many New Orleans hospitals after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, floodwaters knocked out vulnerable backup power systems. A day later, still awaiting rescue in intense summer heat, doctors at Memorial Medical Center were so desperate, they intentionally hastened the deaths of some patients by injecting them with morphine and sedatives, and ultimately 45 bodies were found at the hospital...