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Unplowed roads create major challenge for Flushing Hospital

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The city’s inadequate response to this week’s snowstorm left Queens hospitals facing incredible hardships as ambulances had to be towed while trying to cover medical emergencies and human chains were formed to get vital supplies into Flushing Hospital, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

Flushing Hospital was severely inconvenienced during the blizzard as unplowed streets hampered vehicle access, according to Michael Hinck, spokesman for MediSys Health Network, which includes Flushing and Jamaica hospitals.

“It was extra difficult to work around the issue of streets not being plowed at Flushing. The streets didn’t get plowed until Tuesday evening. We made several attempts to contact the city and request the streets get plowed,” Hinck said in an interview. “Because the streets weren’t plowed as soon as we had wished, it was difficult getting patients to the hospital and it was difficult for patients getting discharged to leave the hospital.”

Ambulances got stuck while attempting to respond to 911 calls and return to the hospital and a number of them had to be towed en route to and from Flushing Hospital, at 45-00 Parsons Blvd.

Staff members with four-wheel-drive vehicles had to give fellow employees stranded at home rides to work and once vehicles got to the hospital and buses stuck in the snow on nearby streets often made it even harder to get near the facility, according to Hinck.

Discharged patients unable to leave the hospital created a bottleneck in the emergency room, Hinck said, where patients were taking up beds they no longer needed, rendering them unusable by new patients.

For the dozens of hours when the main access roads to the hospital — including 45th Avenue and Burling and Delaware streets — were buried under inches of snow, there was a problem getting supplies to the facility.

“We had issues where food deliveries, medical supplies and other supplies couldn’t be unloaded at the hospital because the streets surrounding the hospital were not plowed. Trucks could not get down there, so we had to physically form a human assembly line to get the trucks unloaded,” Hinck said. “They couldn’t access the block where the loading dock was, so [they parked] around the corner.

But despite the disruptions caused by the blizzard, Hinck emphasized that the hospital still provided top-notch care, with staff members helping one another out and covering shifts for colleagues who could not get into work on time.

“Our staff really stepped up .... So patient care wasn’t affected by the storm,” he said.

Jamaica Hospital, at 89-00 Van Wyck Expwy., faced its own challenges, but they were not as severe as the ones experienced at Flushing Hospital.

The main problem at the southeast Queens facility was that the city did not plow 135th Street for dozens of hours, Hinck said, so there was trouble getting ambulances in and out of the facility. This was compounded by the fact that despite repeated requests by the hospital’s management for the city to post signs designating the stretch of 135th Street that ambulances use as a no-standing zone, the section is still not defined as such. Therefore, when the storm hit many cars were parked in that critical area, making it harder for the city to plow it in a timely manner.

“The message we want to get out is this storm has come and gone and hopefully lessons have been learned, but we want the hospitals to become a priority because people depend on the hospitals,” Hinck said.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 10:28 am, October 12, 2011
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