The city isn’t doing enough

November 21, 2012

Sean Petty, a pediatric ER nurse in New York City, reports on calls from health care workers for the city to provide more relief to those still suffering from Sandy.

CLOSE TO 75 health care workers and activists joined forces on the steps of New York's City Hall November 16 to demand that Mayor Michael Bloomberg step up relief efforts to some of the forgotten victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Nurses from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA); representatives from AFSCME Local 436, which represents public health nurses; activists from Occupy Sandy and People's Medical Relief; as well as members of the Physicians for a National Health Program demanded that the mayor take action immediately and coordinate with efforts already in place.

Many of the people at the rally had been volunteering in places like the Rockaways, Staten Island and Coney Island, and reported on the desperate conditions that residents of those neighborhoods continue to face, a full two-and-a-half weeks after the storm had come and gone.

Many spoke of the incredible volunteer work happening, but pointed out the overwhelming need that exists in the most affected areas.

"We're having to recreate an entire health care infrastructure from scratch--everything ranging from assessment and triage of newly housebound individuals, to mobile clinics," said Marisa Fernandez, an emergency room doctor. "We need the mayor's office to step in and provide clinics that are up to standard with the rest of the nation, and help us continue our work to rebuild the health care infrastructure on the Rockaways."

Health care providers, volunteers and activists demand more relief efforts outside New York's City Hall
Health care providers, volunteers and activists demand more relief efforts outside New York's City Hall (Michael Fleshman)

One of the key themes was challenging the general sentiment that everything in the relief effort is moving in the right direction. "The response from city, state and federal officials falls short of meeting the needs of New Yorkers," said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an RN and vice president of NYSNA. "Urgent action and greater coordination are needed to help thousands of people in desperate need."

Two days prior, some of these groups met with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to express the severity of the crisis and what residents in these neighborhoods need. FEMA officials stated that their hands are tied--that they aren't able to coordinate relief efforts beyond what they are currently doing unless the New York City requests more aid from New York state, and New York state requests more aid from FEMA.

Immediately after the rally, representatives from the organizations met with the deputy mayor, who promised increased coordination with health care volunteers and additional resources. But details are sparse, and accountability will be the key to seeing results on the ground.

There was also the question of the ongoing hospital crisis facing the city. More than 2,000 hospital beds, 3,500 nursing home beds and dozens of clinics have been out of commission since the storm. "The city needs to make this their number one priority: getting the local clinics and hospitals back open and at full capacity to be able to provide care for their communities," said Shawn Westfahl, a medic.

Mary Fitzgerald, a registered nurse at Montefire Medical Center, was more blunt, "I have one message to the mayor: We need you to do everything in your power to get our health care infrastructure up and running again. You aren't doing enough."

"There's a real problem with access to health care. It took two days to get Wall Street back up and running, but they can't tell us how long it will take to get Bellevue back up," said Anne Bové, a nurse at Bellevue. "They made a Herculean effort to rebuild Wall Street. They need to make the same Herculean effort to reopen Bellevue and Coney Island Hospitals."

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