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Disasters Test Hospital Social Media Strategies

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2011

Hurricane Irene posted a number of firsts over this weekend. The first major hurricane to hit the east coast since 2008, the storm caused Staten Island University Hospital to close its doors for the first time in 150 years.

The sight was a rare one – hundreds of empty beds and quiet at a New York City hospital in one of the busiest boroughs.

Last Friday newborns in the neonatal unit were transferred from SIUH to other hospitals, one by one. Dozens of ambulances zig-zagged to the hospital entrances, preparing to clear beds, transfer patients, and shutter the facility.

The New York-based 714-bed hospital, a member of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, was one of a few hospitals to evacuate during the hurricane.

Though some New Yorkers have complained that the hurricane hype was overblown, the Category 1 storm downed more than 2,000 trees and caused serious flooding and power outages across the five boroughs in the city.

The hurricane left behind a death toll of at least 35 people and could cost an estimated $7 billion dollars in damage across the East Coast.

On Thursday evening, SIUH management decided to evacuate before the mayor's mandatory evacuation deadline for 8 p.m. on Friday. Though unprecedented,  the purge of patients from SIUH was executed not with an air of chaos, but with sadness, according to staff reaction.

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