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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Getting through the storm

Superstorm Sandy.  The waters have receded and the roads are (mostly) cleared.  But our homes are still largely dark and cold, and many have been rendered homeless.

I am writing this evening from the Riverhead, NY residence of my very generous father-in-law, who has opened his home to my wife and me, my mother and several friends.  Meanwhile, back at the hospital, nurses and physicians, ancillary staff and administrators are still working round the clock in the face of high volume in the ED and an overcrowded facility.  Why?  We can't discharge patients to unsafe conditions at home.  We can't discharge patients to long-term facilities and nursing homes that won't accept them, because their facilities are dark and their workers stranded.


I have to say that like many, I have done my share of eye rolling when, in previous weeks and months, our COO called special meetings about disaster preparedness.  When the facility is humming along, the skies are blue and a dozen other challenges call out for attention, preparing for hypothetical catastrophes just doesn't seem like a good use of limited time.  We all feel differently now.

There have been positives.  On a personal level, I have been gratified to have opportunities to spend time with people one-on-one that I would not ever have had otherwise.  (Having spent Monday morning to Tuesday night in the hospital through the heart of the storm, I found many chances to engage my colleagues in discussions we would never had had under other circumstances...)  And then there was the camaraderie, the high spirits despite fatigue and the sense of shared purpose.  When every thing is going well we can be pretty self-centered.  The sommelier telling us that the Pinot Noir is unavailable becomes A BIG DEAL.  It takes a little disruption to set us straight.

There was one other lesson.  We have been conversing as a healthcare community about the issue of waste.  Unnecessary CT scans,  unwarranted consultations, inappropriate consultations. Under conditions of duress, these problems are magnified.  When the scanner is down, it MATTERS that we not order tests thoughtlessly.  And so, at a recent meeting of hospital leaders, I suggested that we keep this experience in mind when the dust settles, and get busy with the problem of eliminating waste from healthcare.  More on that next time.

To those of you in the path of Sandy, please accept my most sincere wishes for a safe recovery.  Keep the faith.

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