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Amid damage and debris, Long Island DOs recover from Superstorm Sandy

A major osteopathic training site, Long Beach Medical Center (LBMC) evacuated its 162-bed hospital, 200-bed nursing home and office building two days before Superstorm Sandy deluged Long Beach, N.Y., and other Long Island coastal communities on Oct. 29. Both the hospital and office building sustained significant damage and are undergoing reconstruction.

Long Beach Medical Center

A basement waiting room in Long Beach Medical Center’s hospital sustained severe damage from Superstorm Sandy. (Photo courtesy of LBMC)

The hospital’s basement, which houses a pharmacy and family care clinic as well as electrical and mechanical systems, flooded floor to ceiling. It took about four days to pump out all the water, says Sharon Player, LBMC’s director of public affairs.

As repairs commence at the hospital, osteopathic physicians and residents across the region have overcome power loss, flooding and damage to their homes and workplaces to resume seeing patients.

More than a dozen interns and 30 residents from LBMC have been reassigned to other Long Island training sites. Because LBMC’s director of medical education, Cheryl W. Carrao, DO, lives in an area that didn’t lose phone service, she was able to call a number of hospitals to arrange alternative locations for her trainees.

Many residency interviews slated for the days following the flooding needed to be rescheduled and are taking place in various locales, including the campus of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM) of New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury. “I’m Skyping some of the candidates who couldn’t make it in because of canceled flights,” says Nancy A. Bono, DO, who directs LBMC’s family medicine residency program and chairs NYCOM’s family medicine department.

‘We have to think positive’

Not surprisingly, some candidates have expressed concerns about the residency program’s future. “I assure them that by next July, we will have order,” Dr. Bono says. “On the bright side we’re getting new exam rooms and new equipment. We have to think positive.”

An attending family physician at Long Beach Medical Center, Bernadette Riley, DO, also tries to stay upbeat. “I’ve been trying to salvage whatever can be salvaged,” she says, noting that the storm destroyed many stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and other medical supplies. “A company is freeze-drying our damaged patient charts.” She recently found alternative office space and is seeing patients again.

Dr. Riley worries about her home-care and other patients who are still living in emergency shelters more than four weeks after the storm. And she sympathizes with the dispersed interns and residents. “Some of these young physicians lived in basement apartments in Long Beach and lost all of their clothes and other belongings,” she says. “They now have to get used to new hospitals and may face long commutes while having to be at work at 6 a.m.”

LBMC wants its residents back, Player says. “We want to get things back to normal as quickly as we can for them and for our patients,” she says. “The hospital is the primary source of health care on Long Beach.”

Rebounding

At Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC), which absorbed 55 acute-care and 35 nursing-home patients from LBMC, medical staff “worked crazy hours” in the wake of the storm, says Martin Diamond, DO, NUMC’s director of osteopathic medical education. Many NUMC employees experienced power outages and flooding in their homes.

“My place looks like a war zone,” says Dr. Diamond, who lives in Massapequa on the south shore of Long Island. “The basement, which we used for recreation, was entirely flooded and had to be suctioned out. All the decks are gone. And I have part of a neighbor’s house in my backyard.”

NYCOM’s campus sustained some damage, but the college resumed normal activities after a week of being closed, says Linda Darroch-Short, the director of student life. She has helped a few displaced students and faculty members find housing. The school has also provided food and showering facilities to faculty and staff affected by the storm.

Back in her oceanfront apartment in Long Beach after weeks without power and water in her home, NYCOM faculty member Sharon L. Koehler, DO, says she will never forget the storm’s aftermath. She and her fiancé were vacationing when Sandy struck. Unable to connect with loved ones back home, the couple anxiously watched reports of the devastation on television.

Returning to Long Beach five days after the storm, Dr. Koehler vividly recalls the mile-long lines of cars, their drivers waiting to pump gas, and the police checkpoints set up to enforce the curfew and prevent looting. “In Long Beach, no streetlights were working, and boats, docks and debris were strewn all over the roads,” she says.

Dr. Koehler and her fiancé, who had been house-hunting before the storm, have revised their priorities for a new home. “We no longer want to buy waterfront property,” she says.

To contribute to a disaster relief fund for Long Beach Medical Center, readers can send checks, made payable to LBMC Command Center, to 249 E. Park Ave., Long Beach, NY 11561.

cschierhorn@osteopathic.org

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