Study concludes impact of Sandy evacuation on nurses

Larson Binzer, Deputy News Editor

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, every patient at NYU Langone Medical Center was relocated to other area hospitals. Almost two years later, NYU colleges of nursing and dentistry have conducted a study to evaluate the psychological toll on the nurses during the evacuation. 

The study evaluated 528 nurses from Langone who were involved in the evacuation and subsequently transferred to different hospitals. According to the press release, the results determined that 54 percent of the nurses found the transfer experience to be extremely or very stressful.

While the evacuation itself was stressful, the study found that it was the time after the evacuation and subsequent closing of the medical center that affected nurses the most. During this time, nurses were deployed to other hospitals, which proved to be very trying, explained lead author Nancy Van Devanter, an associate professor at the College of Nursing specializing in health services research.

“Initially, I really thought that the main story would be about the evacuation because it’s a very dramatic event, but what surprised me as we went along is people talked a lot more about the deployment,” Van Devanter said. “There were implications, from what [the nurses] were talking about, about steps that could be taken that in the event that this kind of thing would happen again that there could be a system set up that would make it less stressful.”

Tim Shi, a 2012 graduate of the College of Nursing who works at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital, recognizes that it would be extremely difficult for any nurse to switch hospitals. 

“Moving to a new hospital would be tough,” Shi said. “[In a new environment] you’re learning new equipment, trying to find supplies on floors or not having the supplies you’re used to having… [During a hurricane] this would be unbelievably hard. Plus, those hospitals that didn’t have to evacuate now are getting overloaded with more patients leading to stress of nurses [who] have to care for more patients.”

Van Devanter said there could be policy changes and inter-hospital agreements implemented on a regional or state level that could potentially make the transitions in disaster situations in the future less stressful and more efficient for medical personnel and hospitals during deployment.  

“I think one of the things I heard from everyone in the study, and certainly most of us in [New York City], believe that this is not the last hurricane we’re going to have,” Van Devanter said. “We had two in a row. So I think people are concerned that there is a trend across the country for more of these weather-related disasters, so we need to take the time to prepare for them.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 2 print edition. Email Larson Binzer at [email protected].