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|VNSNY CHOICE distributing batteries, flashlights, bottled water, and other supplies, and working as a charging station.
Nearly 120 years ago, the first visiting nurse in New York climbed a flight of stairs on the Lower East Side. Then as now, our mission has been to provide vital care to New York City residents at home and in our communities. That mission is never more important than in times of crisis, like the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Many of our patients are elderly, some are blind, and others are in wheelchairs. Many live alone, and our nurses and clinicians may be the only people they see during the day. To ensure our patients would receive the care they need, we began planning and putting safety measures into place several days before the predicted storm hit.
On Saturday and Sunday, nurses and nurse managers called patients to see if they would be evacuating, and to make sure those remaining at home had supplies—from flashlights and batteries to medication and oxygen tanks. Once we knew our patients were safe, we called far-off family members to let them know their loved ones would be cared for and that VNSNY had emergency systems in place.
Knowing that it might be difficult to get to their patients after the subway system shut down, many nurses saw patients who were scheduled for Monday on Sunday, and our affiliate Partners in Care sent home health aides to move in with high-risk patients so they would have food, medications, companionship and assistance with bathing and personal care throughout the storm and its aftermath. Many aides walked long distances, often leaving families at home, to stay at their patients’ sides.
During and after the storm, more than 5,000 nurses, aides, social workers and other staff and clinicians were out seeing patients to make sure they were safe and had supplies. Many left homes that were flooded or damaged by fire, unsure when they would return. With no public transportation, our staff drove or took cabs, rode bicycles, took to skates or walked—often miles—to see their patients. Some crossed police barricades to provide emergency care to patients and navigated busy intersections with darkened or fallen traffic lights. Others waded for blocks through knee-high water. Once they arrived at patients’ buildings, they had to get past defunct electronic buzzers and then climbed pitch-black stairways to see patients, whether they were on the second or 17th floor. Some nurses worked with flashlights strapped to their heads or held them in their mouths while they changed bandages.
Cell phone service was sporadic. When calls to patients went unanswered, nurses made special trips to patients’ homes to check in, climbing stairs and knocking on doors. If patients had decided to evacuate at the last minute, nurses tracked them down at shelters or family members’ homes.
In addition to medical care, our nurses provide a link to the outside world. Many patients are unable to leave their apartments, and with no power, they were unable to get news. Our staff provided vital information. They brought food and water, medications and batteries. They carried down trash, helped people move from flooded first-floor rooms to higher ground and took cell phones to be recharged. Some nurses filled prescriptions for patients (which often required going to several pharmacies), then returned to patients’ homes with the medications and recharged phones.
Although their attention may have been seeing to their patients, VNSNY staff responded to the needs of all community members after the storm. VNSNY CHOICE RVs have been stationed throughout the city, distributing batteries, flashlights, bottled water, and other supplies, and allowing staff and community members to charge cell phones and other devices. Our VNSNY CHOICE mobile units will continue to be deployed to the hardest hit areas in the coming weeks.
As parts of our city get back on their feet, other areas remain devastated. We will continue to deliver supplies and medical care where they are needed, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies and organizations so we can focus our efforts where they are needed most.
In Chinatown and Russian communities, where few speak English and most feel forgotten, VNSNY nurses, social workers, home health aides and other staff are making sure that patients and community members have the services they need.
In the Rockaways and Breezy Point and on Staten Island, social workers and counselors are volunteering in shelters to assist community members who have lost everything. Throughout the city, behavioral health staff are visiting patients who struggle with depression or cognitive impairment, and they’re working with neighbors to strengthen a sense of community and encourage communication.
As family members who have taken in patients return to work, we will continue to coordinate staff to ensure that the displaced who require care receive the help they need—at home, at shelters and in hospitals or other facilities.
A lot has changed since 1893. A lot has changed since October 29. But one thing hasn’t changed: VNSNY’s commitment to our patients, our city, our home. It is our honor and our privilege to be the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
Now more than ever, we’re here for you.
Since the devastation of Sandy, VNSNY's Emergency Response team is coordinating the efforts of thousands of professional and paraprofessional clinicians and office staff who continue to work around the clock to ensure that care is delivered seamlessly. We have established the VNSNY Relief Fund to help the many patients and employees affected by the aftermath of Sandy.