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Profession comes to grips with Superstorm Sandy’s impact

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Areas of Long Island, N.Y., are flooded following Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 30. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson, USCG)

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the northeastern U.S. Monday night, millions of homes and business in 13 states remain without power, while Long Island, N.Y., the New York City boroughs of Staten Island and Queens, and numerous cities along the coast of New Jersey cope with the effects of severe flooding, structural damage and the leveling of entire communities.

The extent of the storm’s impact on DOs in New Jersey, New York and elsewhere cannot yet be assessed. “One of the biggest problems is that we’re so used to emailing everybody to communicate these days, and a large proportion of our association’s members have no email access right now,” says Karen F. Kowalenko, DO, the president of the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (NJAOPS).

“We know that some members have offices and homes at the shore that they haven’t been allowed to go back to and inspect yet,” says NJAOPS Executive Director Robert Bowen. The association is not aware of any osteopathic physicians who have been injured, he says.

Help for DOs with storm-wrought losses

Osteopathic physicians whose homes or practices have sustained damage from a natural disaster such as Superstorm Sandy can apply for grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 from the AOA’s Osteopathic Family Relief Fund (OFRF). Photos of the damage must accompany the application, which DOs can fill out and submit online.

Members of the profession can send tax-deductible donations made payable to the AOA to Osteopathic Family Relief Fund, American Osteopathic Association, 142 E. Ontario St., 4th floor, Chicago, IL 60611-2864.

For more information on the Osteopathic Family Relief Fund, contact program manager Verna Bronersky by calling (312) 202-8191 or sending email to

In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers disaster relief loans for use in repairing or replacing damaged real estate, personal property and business assets not covered by insurance or other aid. To find out more about these loans, call the SBA at (800) 659-2955.

—Carolyn Schierhorn

Dr. Kowalenko, who lives on the western perimeter of the New York City metropolitan area in Warren, N.J., says she considers herself lucky.

“Whole communities along the Jersey shore have been washed away,” she notes. But those living inland are still struggling with the destruction wrought by 90-mile-per-hour winds.

Not only are traffic lights not functioning and roads covered with trees and other debris, but also many gas stations are out of power. “One of my employees can’t get to work because she can’t get gas for her car,” says Dr. Kowalenko, a medical director at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Rahway, N.J.

“All physicians with offices in any shore town from Long Beach to Cape May have been adversely affected,” says AOA Trustee John W. Becher, DO, a retired emergency physician in Atlantic City, N.J.

Hospitals face crowding, power loss

But Dr. Kowalenko says her biggest concern so far has been how to best manage hospital patients. When the power was out in Rahway, the hospital’s backup generators functioned, but nonemergency procedures had to be postponed.

“Now, thank God, we have power back at the hospital, so we can do procedures,” she says. “But we have a big complication: We can’t discharge some patients because they don’t have power in their homes, so we are having problems with the flow of beds.” Among the most difficult patients to discharge are those who are on intravenous antibiotics, use oxygen tanks or need medications that require refrigeration.

“Because of the aging of the population, people live at home with a lot more illnesses than was the case in the past,” Dr. Kowalenko says. “It’s difficult to meet their needs when there is no power.”

Another problem faced by her hospital is that people who are not sick or injured are seeking refuge in the emergency department because their homes are cold and dark or they can’t get home. “People are flooding into the emergency room who aren’t sure where to go or what to do,” Dr. Kowalenko says. “We are trying to figure out where to safely put them.”

St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City, a leading training site for osteopathic physicians, also received an influx of people escaping the high winds and cold temperatures. “On Monday night and Tuesday, we were running our own mini-shelter in the waiting room,” says Ernest F. Patti, DO, a senior attending emergency physician. “People were coming here for warmth. They were coming here for food. I had to ask, ‘Who here really has a medical problem?’

“A lot of them were embarrassed to admit that they didn’t. I had to reassure them, ‘It’s OK. You don’t have to leave. We just need to know who has to been seen medically.’ Some of the people were homeless. Some had no electricity. Some couldn’t make it home because public transportation was shut down.”

Another New York City hospital, New York University Langone Medical Center, had to evacuate patients to other area hospitals after both its main power and backup power source failed, according to news reports.

In a letter to the editor published in The New York Times, Robert Goldberg, DO, the dean of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, lamented the recent closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan, which the health care community said was an important resource for the borough, according to news reports.

“Looking at the images of ambulances in front of NYU Langone Medical Center evacuating the hospital, one remembers the cry for the preservation of St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan made by the community and its doctors,” wrote Dr. Goldberg, who was an attending physician at the hospital. “Let us join together to come up with a solution so that the people of New York will have access to the critical emergency care they need.”