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NY Nurses Stayed With Critical Care Patients During Hurricane Irene

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, September 13, 2011

Nurses at NYU Langone Medical Center didn't bat an eyelid when Hurricane Irene started barreling toward the northeast last month. The hospital, just steps away from New York's East River was ordered evacuated, along with four others in harm's way, by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But NYU-Langone refused to move six of its ICU patients, warning they were so desperately ill that moving them threatened their lives. The ICU's nurses instead opted to stay with their patients through whatever the storm threatened to bring.

After receiving permission for the six patients to remain, Elaine Rowinski, RN, MPS, CCRN, CEN, nurse manager of the medical ICU, found she had no shortage of staff volunteering to stay and care for them.

"Every day we're faced with life and death. Every day my staff are heroes," said Rowinski. "Maybe because we're New Yorkers, we're very resilient. Also we're critical care people. This was nothing unique. Just what they're faced with and you deal with it. I'm very lucky."

The preparations began on Friday, two days before the hurricane was expected to hit. The 18-bed medical ICU immediately made plans to transfer its patients to other hospitals. Transferring critically ill patients is extremely complicated and the staff had to complete a large number in a short time, but it made discharges and handoff transitions smoothly and successfully.

Due to the critical nature of their illnesses, many of the patients had to be accompanied in the ambulance by ICU nurses to ensure they did not crash during transfer. Rowinski says many patients and families didn't want to leave.

"It's a tribute to the medical and nursing care they get here," says Rowinski. "Some patients are with us for a while and they've been very sick for a long period of time. They develop relationships with physicians, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team. They have a comfort level and sending them out would change their comfort level."

Rowinski says the hospital practices patient- and family-centered care. Visiting hours are 24/7 and families are made to feel welcome. When families call for updates on their relatives, they don't have to call the switchboard, they simply dial their family members' nurse's line and speak to him or her directly.

"They talk to nurses constantly," says Rowinski about patient's families. "There's a relationship between families and the healthcare team."

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