When public officials fail in their responsibilities
This story by Jennifer Preston, Sheri Fink, and Michael Powell, gives a detailed account of how New York City public officials, from Bloomberg on down, failed in their duties to see that the citizens of the city do not come to harm. This story is not about the failure to plan for Rikers Island. It’s about the nursing home patients who were effectively abandoned:
Hurricane Sandy was swirling northward, four days before landfall, and at the Sea Crest Health Care Center, a nursing home overlooking the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn, workers were gathering medicines and other supplies as they prepared to evacuate.
Then the call came from health officials: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, acting on the advice of his aides and those of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, recommended that nursing homes and adult homes stay put. The 305 residents would ride out the storm.
“No one gets why we weren’t evacuated,” said a worker there, Yisroel Tabi. “We wouldn’t have exposed ourselves to dealing with that situation.”
The recommendation that thousands of elderly, disabled and mentally ill residents remain in more than 40 nursing homes and adult homes in flood-prone areas of New York City had calamitous consequences.
At least 29 facilities in Queens and Brooklyn were severely flooded. Generators failed or were absent. Buildings were plunged into a cold, wet darkness, with no access to power, water, heat and food.
While no immediate deaths were reported, it took at least 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. Without working elevators, many had to be carried down slippery stairwells.
“I was shocked,” said Greg Levow, who works for an ambulance service and helped rescue residents at Queens. “I couldn’t understand why they were there in the first place.”
Many sat for hours in ambulances and buses before being transported to safety through sand drifts and debris-filled floodwaters. They went to crowded shelters and nursing homes as far away as Albany, where for days, they often lacked medical charts and medications. Families struggled to locate relatives.
The decision not to empty the nursing homes and adult homes in the mandatory evacuation area was one of the most questionable by the authorities during Hurricane Sandy. And an investigation by The New York Times found that the impact was worsened by missteps that officials made in not ensuring that these facilities could protect residents.
They did not require that nursing homes maintain backup generators that could withstand flooding. They did not ensure that health care administrators could adequately communicate with government agencies during and after a storm. And they discounted the more severe of the early predictions about Hurricane Sandy’s surge.
The Times’s investigation was based on interviews with officials, health care administrators, doctors, nurses, ambulance medics, residents, family members and disaster experts. It included a review of internal State Health Department status reports. The findings revealed the striking vulnerability of the city’s nursing and adult homes.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, the day before Hurricane Sandy arrived, Mr. Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation in Zone A, the low-lying neighborhoods of the city. But by that point, Mr. Bloomberg, relying on the advice of the city and state health commissioners, had already determined that people in nursing homes and adult homes should not leave, officials said.
The mayor’s recommendations that health care facilities not evacuate startled residents of Surf Manor adult home in Coney Island, said one of them, Norman Bloomfield. He recalled that another resident exclaimed, “What about us! Why’s he telling us to stay?”
The commissioners made the recommendation to Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo because they said they believed that the inherent risks of transporting the residents outweighed the potential dangers from the storm.
In interviews, senior Bloomberg and Cuomo aides did not express regret for keeping the residents in place. . . [In other words, they learned nothing. - LG]