Shelter in a Storm

Eastern Long Island Hospital

On the morning of Monday October 29, with Superstorm Sandy bearing down on Long Island, the administration of Eastern Long Island Hospital (ELIH) in Greenport decided for the first time in its history to evacuate the hospital. Helene de Reeder, Director of Behavioral Health Services, was charged with the responsibility of making arrangements for the hospital’s 12 psychiatric inpatients. She called Laura Fochtmann MD, the interim director of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP).

Laura Fochtmann MD

Dr. Fochtmann’s response was immediate. “Of course we will take them,” she said.

“It was that easy,” Ms. de Reeder said later. “Dr. Fochtmann’s response could not have been more receptive or expedient. She gave me her cell phone number and told me to call her any time.”

The ELIH Staff responded to the decision to evacuate without hesitation. They gathered the patients, their records and belongings and brought them to Stony Brook, where they were seen and admitted. The patients stayed two nights — some on 10 North and some in CPEP — accompanied by ELIH staff, who, though they could not provide direct care, were able to provide information to staff and reassurance to the patients.

“Our staff on 10N and in CPEP were superb,” Dr. Fochtmann said. “They pitched in to make the best of a difficult situation despite personal worries about their homes and families.” She also cited the work of Andrew Francis MD, PhD who helped coordinate the logistics of caring for a dozen new patients during the hurricane as well as the dedication of the psychiatry residents and other faculty who assured that all of the clinical needs were met. On Wednesday morning, after the storm had passed and the flood waters receded, the patients returned to Greenport with the ELIH staff who had stayed with them. “The patients did amazingly well,” Dr. Fochtmann said.

In a letter to Reuven Pasternak MD, the CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital, Paul Connor, President and CEO of ELIH, thanked the hospital and the Department of Psychiatry “for coming to the aid of ELIH and our patients. I would like to acknowledge Dr. Laura Fochtmann who provided support every step of the way to ensure the safety and comfort of our patients and staff,” Mr. Connor said in the letter.

“Our staff was quite impressed by the people at Stony Brook,” Ms. de Reeder said. “They fed them, gave them a place to rest and provided clear instructions.  The communication with Stony Brook was professional, clear and efficient.”  The patients were equally impressed. “They reported that the staff and patients at Stony Brook were very kind and caring,” Ms. de Reeder said.

“In a time of crisis and disaster, the team effort was truly a positive experience,” Ms. de Reeder said. “Staff from both hospitals clearly rose to the occasion, putting the care of the patients ahead of their own needs.”