Boro nursing homes, hospitals outlast outage

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One hour after the blackout hit, workers at Flushing’s Union Plaza Nursing Home came to the Sears Roebuck and Co. on Northern Boulevard looking for fans.

The nursing home’s generator had immediately kicked in but did not provide enough power to keep the air conditioning running. Concerned relatives of the residents showed up at the front door of the home asking if their elderly loved ones were keeping cool.

Although Sears had closed when it lost power, one of its employees remained inside and agreed to sell a few fans to the home’s staffers.

By using the fans, shutting windows and closing the shades, workers at the home managed to keep the 280 residents from overheating until the air conditioning came back on the next morning, said Charlton Rhee, the home’s assistant administrator.

“We were prepared for a disaster,” Rhee said. “You have to have a back-up plan. My staff performed beautifully.”

Union Plaza’s story mirrored the situation in other nursing homes and hospitals throughout the borough. The reliance on generators made for some scary moments, but facilities managed to provide adequate care despite the power problems, health care administrators said.

Many hospitals in Queens switched to generators with only a minor loss in power, turning off excess lights and computers.

But one of the three generators at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center failed, said Michael Hinck, a hospital spokesman.

“Power was linked to the other generators and all essential services continued to run,” Hinck said. “All our services to the patient’s floors continued to run, and patients weren’t jeopardized.”

But air conditioning had to be reduced on non-patient floors, Hinck said.

“Our upper-level management was here throughout the night to make sure things continued to run smoothly,” Hinck said.

Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica had one of its generators shut down temporarily, said spokeswoman Debra Cohen.

The loss of the generator cut power to a nursing home at the hospital, Cohen said.

“When they tried to power [the nursing home] up, they had a few minutes when the generator did go down,” she said. “They did have interrupted service.”

No health services were affected, however, and the power soon returned, Cohen said.

After switching to generators, administrators at the Silvercrest Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Jamaica decided to send 43 of their 320 residents to local hospitals.

Unlike most nursing homes, many residents at Silvercrest rely on ventilators to breath, and their caretakers worried that the generators might not provide enough power to keep the ventilators running.

“We said, ‘Look, this is a really frail population, and to be on the safe side of things, why don’t we send out some of our patients to our really excellent hospitals?’” said Cosmo LaCosta, administrator of Silvercrest.

The center sent out its most infirmed residents, LaCosta said.

On Friday, the home lacked sufficient water pressure, LaCosta said.

“Children were playing in the hydrants all day Friday, so they depleted the water pressure” he said. “We literally had to call the Office of Emergency Management to come around and turn off all the hydrants in the community.”

New York Hospital Queens in Flushing, which took in some of Silvercrest’s residents, also accepted patients who were having trouble breathing as a result of the blackout.

A dozen people dependent on oxygen tanks powered by electricity in their homes came to NYHQ to receive the necessary oxygen.

“New York Hospital Queens happily reports that there was no loss of life as a result of the blackout,” said its president, Stephen Mills, in a news release. “In fact, 12 infants were welcomed into the world in our labor and delivery unit during the 16-hour period that our area was without power.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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