After Hurricane Sandy, many of the elevators in New York’s high-rise apartment buildings stopped running. Residents were stuck on high floors without heat, lights or water. For the elderly and disabled, this posed especially high risk. My colleague Alex and I visited a group of doctors in Coney Island who have been bringing water and medicines in backpacks up the stairwells to some of the most vulnerable residents. These doctors had set up a base camp at a mobile clinic treating patients whose doctors’ offices remained shuttered from storm damage, and deployed groups into the housing complexes to help the people trapped on high floors.
It was incredible to see doctors from all over the city converge to help, ascending dozens of flights of stairs each day to treat people in need. AmeriCares is providing a grant supporting a volunteer coordinator to lead the efforts through the group PNHP – Physicians for a National Health Program. The doctors in the field were working in groups of 12-25 to bring medicines, supplies and water to struggling residents.
Dr. Jeffrey, a retired respiratory therapist from Beth Israel and a PNHP member, described climbing as high as the eighteenth floor to check in on elderly and disabled residents – some dangerously low on medicines necessary for survival. Local pharmacies had been closed, so the doctors established an emergency pharmacy in the area. They refilled prescriptions and often delivered the medicines to patients’ doors.
I also got the chance to talk to Jonathan, a resident at Bellevue Hospital Center – itself evacuated during the storm. On one of his medical canvassing trips into the towering high-rises, he had stopped to check on a patient with chronic pulmonary disease after at the request of a concerned neighbor. Thanks to the neighbor and the fast-acting doctors, they were able to refill the man’s prescriptions promptly, preventing possible dangers to his health.
The lights have already begun to turn on, and the elevators are mostly working again. Drug stores are reopening. Still, two weeks later, damage remains – and many still lack hot water. The rebuilding efforts are far from over, and it will require the sustained attention of many to restore health services in Coney Island and the hardest-hit communities.