In Sandy's wake, hospitals share stories of success, survival

With the support of health information technology, astute preparation by staff and, yes, even some good old-fashioned luck, hospitals and health systems along Hurricane Sandy’s path emerged from the storm relatively unscathed.

Officials at Atlanticare, one of New Jersey’s largest healthcare systems, based in Galloway and Atlantic City, N.J., cite early preparation among IT and safety staff as key to surviving this kind of storm. 

“I had actually been tracking the weather the week prior,” Debra Fox, chief safety office at Atlanticare, tells Healthcare IT News. “Thursday is actually when we initiated our planning and communication to the leadership around beginning to put their operational preparedness plans in place,” she adds. This included topping off generator fuel and ensuring that the facility is able to withstand a loss of power.

[See also: After Sandy, help for healthcare infrastructure.]

Christopher Scanzera, vice president and CIO at Atlanticare adds that IT staff communication and responsiveness across the health system was key to keeping things up-and-running. 

“We have an IT command center that we opened up, staffed with about a dozen people, and basically the responsibility there is to monitor and respond to any system-related outages,” he says. “We had staff in each of the campuses both from a user standpoint and from a technical support standpoint in the event there were any outages that need to be addressed.”

Scanzera says that, due to the diligence of staff, there was no interruption of service in 98 of the 100 sites he is responsible for. In the data center, he mentions there was power outage from Monday into Tuesday, but no interruption of service occurred.

“To only to have had to wait 24 or 48 hours to get the last two [sites] back online, given what you see out there in terms of the devastation, I think we’re very fortunate,” says Scanzera.

Atlanticare’s clinical information system, patient financial management system and all the administrative systems were uninterrupted at all points during the storm, he adds.

When asked about whether or not health information exchange is important in a crisis like this, Scanzera says, “Yes and no.”

“When you’re in the middle of a storm, and you’re treating patients emergently, to have access to the information, yes, would be helpful, but really quite frankly, the focus is on treating the patients and moving them through in that emergent situation,” he says.

[See also: Sandy hammers Northeast, hospitals hurting in aftermath.]

Officials at Philadelphia, Pa.-based Einstein Healthcare Network also cite staff preparation as a crucial element to survive the storm.