Operations at are returning to normal following its evacuation of 370 patients Friday and Saturday as the medical center prepared for Hurricane Irene.
For the first time in the 50-plus year history of the West Islip-based hospital, , discharging about 170 patients and sending another 200 to five Catholic Health System sister-hospitals on Long Island and handful to Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola and Stony Brook University Hospital.
“We have an evacuation plan, but any plan never perfectly fits the scenario that you're facing,” James Caldas, president and chief executive officer at Good Samaritan told Patch. “The key to success in an effort like this is the extraordinary people we have that went through such great lengths for patient care and safety.”
Caldas called the effort of the hospital’s medical and non-medical personnel “inspiring” and reported no problems with the transport of patients to the seven aforementioned hospitals.
“We had remarkable cooperation from everyone,” he said. “This was not a case where we could negotiate with patients and their families. Once we explained that the decisions we were making were in the best interest of the patient, (families and patients) understood.”
For some patients, the evacuation meant they could go home. For others, it meant receiving medical transportation to a hospital that would be able to provide the best care for their specific medical issue, Caldas said.
“We had some newborns in the (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), some in need of dialysis, some on ventilators,” he said. “Upon doing a health assessment, we placed patients in the hospital that would provide the best care for the patient.”
But moving 200 patients presented staffing challenges at the hospitals receiving those in need of care and a need to properly track medical records. As a result, Good Samaritan nurses were sent with patients to other hospitals to help with their care, creating what Caldas termed virtual patient care units.
“When we told our staff where they needed to be, there was not one complaint,” Caldas said. “Our nurses have families of their own facing the storm but they were all willing to go to other hospitals without a second thought.”
Ambulances to transport patients were provided to Good Samaritan by Suffolk County through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We had all patients evacuated from the hospital within 24 hours,” he said. “It was truly unbelievable.”
While the decision to evacuate and close the hospital was Caldas’ to make, he was quick to note that he received a great deal of advice from Good Samaritan’s Incident Command Team, fellow executives with Catholic Health Services and executives from other south shore hospitals that were facing the same issues.
While the hospital was near empty during the height of Irene, a skeletal crew remained that included a CAT scan technician, a lab technician and emergency medical personnel. However, the staff did not handle any major medical emergencies during the height of the storm.
In deciding to move patients, Caldas said he was most concerned about the potential for flooding and the loss of power. However, neither materialized and the hospital’s physical plant did not suffer any damage.
When looking back at his decision to evacuative, Caldas said he would choose the same course of action, adding that given the lessons and loss of life from Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, he prefers to error on the side of caution.