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Sharing Lessons From Sandy Could Mean Healthier Recovery Next Time Around

Health commissioner's roundtables gets first responders, local and state officials talking.

Add deadly carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly vented generators and toxic mold to the many health hazards visited on the state by Hurricane Sandy. That helps explain why healthcare providers from New Jersey's first responders to the state’s top health official are looking to identify and apply lessons learned to head off similar crises during the next bout of extreme weather.

Sandy will have a lasting effect on how the state prepares for the future, Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said yesterday after completing a round of forums with healthcare officials and emergency responders.

One major change: The state will take steps in future disasters to make sure that residents are informed on how to operate electric generators before a storm hits and power outages sever communication links.

The conversations at the forums have ranged from details of data collection to covering the most troubling health challenges from the storm, including the immense difficulty of evacuating hospitals and nursing homes that were flooded or lost power.

The roundtable event led by O’Dowd at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck was the last of four this year that brought together hospital, nursing home, hospice, and local emergency officials to discuss what lessons can be drawn from their disaster responses. The events were held in four of the counties that were hardest hit by Sandy: Bergen, Hudson, Monmouth, and Ocean. O’Dowd said the events had several goals, including inspiring local and regional efforts to plan for future disasters.

A lasting lesson from the storm was the challenge posed by attempting to communicate emergency response information at a time when many news sources were inaccessible due to power outages.

That led to many health problems, including an uptick in carbon monoxide poisoning a couple of days after the storm, caused by improperly vented generator exhaust.

“As a result, we’re going to try to do some additional education when we’re not in the middle of a disaster so that they can learn to better use generators,” O’Dowd said of residents.

The complicated process of transferring patients who must be evacuated from one healthcare facility to another posed a different set of challenges during the storm. A particularly daunting one: keeping patients’ medical records with them during the transfers, O’Dowd noted.

As health systems shift to electronic health records, the storm has taught the importance of making sure those records are readily transferrable, she said. O’Dowd added that state health officials are working to foster ties between local institutions that will need to share this information in the future.

The commissioner said the roundtable discussions have given her a chance to meet many of the emergency response leaders who coordinate with health officials, and the officials themselves, who were brought together to begin planning.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

MrDoughnut April 07, 2013 at 06:41 AM
States that suffer storm damage from tornadoes know this stuff already. NJ has had flooding in areas like Wayne. We had weather patterns before where we got the effects of hurricanes like Donna when I was a child. Another Sandy like storm hit in the near future may not be so impossible. A major Earth Quake may not be so surprising either on the Metro area. I think the weakened economy from outsourcing is your biggest threat one which several higher ups will deny like a crook caught with the bags of money under both arms.
MrDoughnut April 07, 2013 at 06:51 AM
If people were so down an out to begin with many of them might have been able to recovery faster. Sad that people living near the ocean areas etc thought this could never happen.
MrDoughnut April 07, 2013 at 07:01 AM
Disaster can strike even in the safest places for one reason or another but if your economy stinks the survivors will find the recovery takes even longer than it would have. You can build all the casinos you want but if your economy stinks you can count on bankruptsy. And you can tax to the cows come home rather than admit outsourcing had nothing to do with the economy stinking but it don't change the outcome.
MrDoughnut April 07, 2013 at 07:05 AM
Outsourcing had alot to do with the economy stinking an when it evetually gets in the history records your descendants are going to be learning about that sad fact.

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