Tale of two hospitals

After Hurricane Sandy, whether or not hospitals had power the goal was still the same: feed patients and staff.

By 
Paul King, Editor

When Hurricane Sandy struck the New York metropolitan area two days before Halloween, some of the most severely affected institutions were hospitals. Whether from flooding, a loss of power or a combination of the two, several hospitals such as NYU Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan had to evacuate patients. Others were able to maintain service even without power, and a lucky few managed to escape relatively unscathed.

One of those less fortunate hospitals was Bayonne Medical Center in New Jersey.  The 278-bed hospital sits in the middle of a narrow strip of land bordered by New York Bay on one side and Newark Bay on the other.

“We were without electric for seven days,” wrote foodservice director Bob Lewandoski, whose department was nonetheless able to maintain service throughout the crisis. “During that time we were on a limited menu of mostly cold items, with one hot item at each meal. Of course, we fed all of our patients, but we also fed all staff members and patients’ families around the clock free of charge.”

Lewandoski said one of the biggest challenges was maintaining contact with the outside world, because phone land lines were down and cell phone sevice was spotty at best.

“My cell phone worked most of the time but only outside the building,” he related. “I set myself up a temporary office on the loading dock and placed emergency food and supply orders sitting on milk crates.”

It is during crises that managers often learn exactly what their employees are made of, and for Levandoski the revelation was heart-warming.

“Our whole staff were heroes,” he shared. “Many of them left their families, stayed overnight and worked long hours, giving up their days off and in some cases vacation days. Our clinical nutrition manager, Diana Cangemi, accumulated over 100 hours in eight days.”

On the flip side, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in New Brunswick, N.J., was one of the more fortunate institutions. Because the hospital’s administration invested more than $1 million on a back-up generator system, the 650-bed hospital never missed a beat.

“That investment was our saving grace,” said Tony Almeida, the hospital’s foodservice director. “We had a lot of people from the community come here just to get a good hot meal. Sometimes, in an emergency, all people want to do is eat.”

Almeida estimated that revenue was up 25% to 30% in the aftermath of the storm. His department also fed patients and staff at Children’s Specialized Hospital, located across the street.

The hospital’s cafeteria also served as a gathering place and a recharging center for local residents, including students from nearby Rutgers University.

“One night I came in and there were like 20 or 25 kids in the cafeteria, and all you could see were computers,” he said.