NEW YORK NURSE: March 2009
by Mark Genovese
RNs from three Manhattan hospitals were honored during the Delegate Assembly’s February meeting for their courage and swift response to two major emergencies in New York City.
NYSNA Chief Executive Officer Tina Gerardi presented certificates of appreciation to RNs from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center for their response in treating the victims of the Jan. 15 US Airways plane crash in the Hudson River. She also recognized nurses at The Mount Sinai Hospital for their skill in evacuating 600 patients when a fire broke out on Jan. 21.
Eileen Dunn, president of the bargaining unit at St. Vincent’s, said she was leaving an Executive Committee meeting at the hospital when she received a call on her cell phone. “John (fellow committee member John Hiltunen) called me saying ‘something’s going on over at the West Side Highway. A plane just came down!’”
Dunn immediately went back into the hospital, where some of the staff were watching the rescue effort on a television. “It gave me an unsettled feeling – after having been through 9/11,” Dunn reflected. “It started to stir up all these horrible feelings again.”
Fortunately, this time there were only a few minor injuries. “Three people came into St. Vincent’s with neck and back injuries,” Dunn said. “They weren’t admitted. We talked afterward about how terrible it was not to keep them in the ER because post-traumatic stress could surface later.”
“As nurses, we should be letting people know that they need to be evaluated for post-traumatic stress,” Dunn said. “A lot of us didn’t take care of ourselves at that time in 2001, but we felt it afterward. You keep it in the closet, but it’s always in the back of your mind.”
“It was eerie to wait for that plane,” agreed Mercedes Herman, who was across town at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center. Herman was conducting on-site meetings at the facility when a call came from the nursing office that the hospital was on standby. “We too immediately thought of 9/11,” she said. “We tend to carry that baggage, when what we need is to get rid of it and prepare for the next challenge.”
Audrey Ludmer was one of the Mount Sinai RNs who received certificates for their role in evacuating patients during the fire. “We just came out of a meeting and could see the reflection of the lights and hear the sirens bouncing off the buildings,” she said.
They couldn’t get into the building through the closest entrances because security wasn’t letting anyone in, so they went in by the main entrance around the block. The fire started in a second floor mechanical closet, but thick, pungent smoke spread to the emergency room, and filled other floors.
Staff were told where to evacuate and in which direction via the public address system and BlackBerry® announcements. Nurses used masks that are on the units to protect them from the smoke and went from floor to floor. ICU patients were moved in beds and stretchers. Some of the ambulatory patients were moved in office chairs.
In all 600 patients and many more visitors were transferred with the help and cooperation of the RNs, physicians, medical students, as well as the entire Mount Sinai community.
“We got everybody out in 45 minutes,” Ludmer said. “Everybody helped to successfully avoid what could have been a horrible situation.” Within 24 hours, the hospital offered help to employees suffering any psychological effects at a clinic developed after 9/11 for those involved in fire and smoke.
“Patients with different acuities were moved by our staff without injuries or incident,” noted LBU president Jacklynn Price in a letter to bargaining unit members. She noted that the unit was so calm the next morning that the only indication of the ordeal the night before was the faint smell of smoke.
The fire occurred as the hospital was being surveyed for redesignation of Magnet status, Price noted, “The formal 12 volumes of submitted documentation presenting our nursing development processes and outcomes were displaced by actual reality on that day.”