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Winter Storm Juno: How hospitals prepared—and kept patients safe

January 27, 2015

    Clare Rizer, The Daily Briefing

    Hospitals throughout the Northeast took the weekend to prepare for Winter Storm Juno, the much-anticipated blizzard set to drop up to three feet of snow on the Big Apple.

    While the storm didn't live up to expectations in New York City, parts of New England are under more than a foot of snow and struggling with heavy flooding and blackouts. On Nantucket Island, which is entirely without power, the hospital is running on a generator. 

    Getting ready: Stockpiling supplies...and staff

    Over the weekend, hospitals in New York City and Boston stockpiled surgical supplies, medications, and food in the event that deliveries might be postponed for several days because of possibly treacherous road conditions. 

    Hospital officials say patient discharges will also depend on travel conditions and on the conditions of patients' homes, including whether they have heat or a support system to deal with post-operative care. Tufts Medical Center spokesperson Julie Jette says, "We would never discharge anybody if it was unsafe for somebody to travel."

    Doctors' tips for surviving the record-breaking cold weather

    In addition, hospitals along the East Coast have been making accommodations for clinicians and hospital staff to stay overnight at the facilities to avoid poor road conditions. This also ensures there will be enough staff on hand in the event of weather-related emergencies.

    For instance, some Tufts employees booked hotel rooms close to the facility so they could be ready for their shifts if travel conditions worsened, and the hospital itself will put up nearly 100 employees overnight. The Cambridge Health Alliance, which includes three community hospital campuses in the Boston area, says it will have all staff stay at its hospitals during the storm.

    "Unfortunately we get ample opportunity to drill this scenario," Jette says, adding, "We're no stranger to this."

    Hospitals in emergency mode as blizzard ravages Midwest

    Postponing procedures

    Meanwhile, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation elected to postpone voluntary procedures on Tuesday and is deciding whether to do so on Wednesday as well, according to CMO Ross Wilson. Similarly, Pat Noga, the Massachusetts Hospital Association's VP for clinical affairs, says the organization has reached out to providers at long-term care facilities to discuss possible early transfers of patients scheduled for upcoming procedures.

    Hospitals along the coast are also encouraging pregnant women who are 40 to 41 weeks along to come into the hospital early in the event that they go into labor.

    What should hospitals do in emergencies?

    Thomas Lynch, head of emergency preparedness at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, says the city's "EMS services are well prepared" and that various organizations are working together to get the roads cleared and make hospitals accessible. He says, "People realize that they are going to have to partner with each other. The snow plowers are primed to help the ambulances and the fire trucks to get to where they need to get, and get people cared for."

    The takeaway:Hospitals were well prepared for the snow storm that descended on New England last night.

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