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Hospital, Hotel Laundry/Linen Operations Feel Brunt of Superstorm Sandy (Part 1 of 2)

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Manhattan skyline without power
The Manhattan skyline on the second night without power due to Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: © iStockphoto/Andrew Cribb)

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Bellevue Medical Center
Bellevue Medical Center. (Photo: Richard Merli)

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NYU Medical Center
NYU Medical Center. (Photo: Richard Merli)

Richard Merli |

NEW YORK — Superstorm Sandy flooded and crippled numerous hospital and hotel laundry operations when it struck the Northeast in late October.

Several laundry and linen operations were destroyed by saltwater flooding and storm surges, caused by winds of 85 to 90 miles per hour, while numerous other operations were knocked out of service for weeks by power outages, due to overhead electrical lines downed by fallen trees.

A confluence of events, combining a tropical storm, a hurricane, and a high tide, caused by a full moon—some dubbed it the Perfect Storm—created a strong storm surge of 14 feet and left an estimated 102 people dead and caused an estimated $50 billion in property damage and lost business along the East Coast.

On the east side of Manhattan, flood waters from the East River traveled 600 feet and destroyed the laundry and research facilities in Hunter College’s Brookdale Health Science Center on East 25th Street. Salt water also flooded the dormitory in which 660 residents lived. Many of the campus’ programs will be relocated to Hunter College’s main campus on East 68 Street in Manhattan, according to Jennifer Raab, the college president.

The storm also shuttered the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital on East 23th Street, Bellevue Hospital Center on East 27th Street, and New York University Langone Medical Center on East 32nd Street, all located on First Avenue, less than 1,000 feet from the East River. Three weeks later, the hospitals were still closed.

“The East River rose and flooded the basement and first floor and knocked out our electrical and heating systems and linen services,” says Thomas Johnson, a spokesman for the VA hospital in Manhattan. “It may be springtime before we can reopen again.”

In Somers Point, N.J., a popular Jersey shore resort town, the laundry in the Pier Four luxury hotel was flooded and destroyed by more than three feet of ocean water.

“We’re working hard to get back on our feet,” says Bill Wallace, the hotel owner.

Further down the shore, the storm forced the closing for four days of Atlantic City Linen, which services Atlantic City’s casino hotels. The city’s casino hotels closed during the storm.

In many cases, emergency preparedness and disaster plans, as well as backup generators, enabled laundries to maintain continuity of service. In other cases, however, backup generators were flooded, and the best-laid plans failed.

Riverview Medical Center, which sits on the Navesink River in Red Bank, N.J., revised and enhanced its disaster planning process following Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, and “came out better because of it,” according to Tim Hogan, hospital president.

The hospital ordered extra supplies of linen and bedding, and an emergency response team set up storm barriers and stacked sand bags behind the hospital “to ward off substantial storm damage,” he says. When the river rose on Oct. 29, the barriers held.

In New York, once the storm knocked out power, backup generators were flooded and knocked out of service in both NYU Langone Medical Center, which has 800 beds, and Bellevue Hospital Center, the nation’s oldest continuously operating hospital, which has 828 beds. New York City officials were forced to evacuate both facilities and make arrangements to relocate patients to other city hospitals.

At this writing, Bellevue was still conducting an extensive clean-up and recovery effort, including pumping 17 million gallons of salt water out of its basement. On Nov. 19, the hospital began offering limited ambulatory primary care services for adult and pediatric patients. Bellevue may not resume accepting admissions before February, according to Ruth Hunt, a hospital spokeswoman.

The fuel tanks for NYU’s backup generator were also located in the basement of the hospital. Hospital engineers are still making assessments of the environmental damage caused by the mixture of salt water and diesel fuel from the tanks. Dr. Robert Grossman, the chief executive officer of NYU Langone, estimates the total cost of storm damage, clean up, rebuilding, and lost patient revenue for the medical center at $750 million to $1 billion.

In mid-November, the New York City Council voted to approve $500 million in emergency capital funding to make vital repairs to public schools and public hospitals damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The repair needs include structural restorations, new boilers, new electrical systems, roof repair, flood remediation and more.

Tomorrow: More on the storm aftermath and how some equipment makers have established programs to help affected laundries recover

About the author

Richard Merli

Richard Merli, who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a former editor of American Laundry News.

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