Hospital’s Own Storm Surge

    Hurricane Sandy may have dissipated, but she still wreaks havoc in many people’s lives, especially those who need medical attention. More patients than usual are seeking to mend at Southampton Hospital and other East End medical centers.
    Marsha Kenny, director of marketing and public affairs at Southampton Hospital, said that since Sandy struck on Oct. 29 the hospital has been as busy as during summer months, and 20 percent busier than exactly one year ago. “After huge storms, we often see an increase in patients who weren’t wearing goggles during cleanup, or decided to go out and buy a chain saw,” Ms. Kenny said. “But fortunately we didn’t experience patients coming in due to catastrophic injuries this time around.”
    The hospital is certified for 125 beds, and between 80 and 90 of them were occupied as of Tuesday, according to Ms. Kenny. “It’s a full house.”
    Some of the patients, she said, were East End residents who “use medical equipment that needs to be plugged in at home.” She added, “We can’t discharge those people when they don’t have electricity at home. Where would they go?” She said the hospital is also helping people who can’t get to their regular dialysis centers because of the shortage of gasoline and other transportation problems.
    Anxiety and stress have led several patients to seek relief at the hospital, Ms. Kenny said, because “some people haven’t been able to get in touch with their relatives in the area.”
    Two babies, both girls, were born at the hospital during the storm. Ms. Kenny called them “hurricane babies,” and said that to her knowledge neither of them was named Sandy.
    Activity is up in virtually every unit in the hospital, including the intensive care unit and emergency room. “Communication is key,” she said on Tuesday, noting that the hospital has a storm/emergency plan in place and would be able to cope with even more patients who may come in as a result of yesterday’s northeaster. “Representatives from each department come together to meet regularly to report and say what their needs are.”
    Doctors at the hospital are doing their best to keep in touch with the patients’ regular physicians, Ms. Kenny said. Transferring patients to other hospitals and facilities, like the Hamptons Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Southampton, is not an option “because they’re full, too.”
    Keeping up with higher patient numbers along with the gasoline shortage and power outages at home has caused many hospital staff members, 55 to 60 percent of whom live west of Southampton, to spend nights at work. Ms. Kenny said they sleep on cots placed in various offices.
    The hospital ran on a generator during and shortly after the storm, but has been “on LIPA for several days now,” Ms. Kenny said.
    Kate Skinner, office manager at Wainscott Walk-In Medical Care, and Melinda Gould, a nurse at Meeting House Lane Medical Practice in Sag Harbor, said their clinics didn’t open on Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 because the phone lines were down and many employees didn’t have electricity at home. Ms. Gould’s clinic did not reopen until last Thursday.
    Since reopening, the two said it has been business as usual, with no increased patient traffic. “Patient flow is pretty much the same as it would have been absent Sandy,” Ms. Skinner said Monday evening, when the waiting room was half-full with 10 patients and their families. “If the weather were cooler, then we may have seen more sick people.”
    “Many South Fork residents who have lost power at home still have somewhere else,” Ms. Skinner said, “whether it’s a relative or a neighbor’s house that has power.” People have seen and heard about the devastation in New York City and New Jersey, she said, which might cause them to “think twice about whining about how things are out here.”