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After Sandy - Evacuated Psychiatric Patients

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(Nov. 1, 2012) Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City’s oldest public hospital, shut down Wednesday after its backup power generators failed. The evacuation included the psychiatric unit, which was home to 42 psychiatric patients and 18 inmates with serious mental illness.

bellevue2012The hospital had been operating on generators since Monday, but the 17 million gallons of water that flooded the basement damaged power pumps, fuel and water pumps. A hospital official described “third-world conditions” at the hospital, including “no hot water, no lab or radiology services and pails of water hauled up the stairs to use for flushing toilets” (“Bellevue Hospital evacuates patients after backup power fails,” New York Times, Oct. 31).

Bellevue is famous for its psychiatric facilities and one of only two hospitals in New York City that provides care for inmates with severe mental illness. The hospital also operates a state-certified Comprehensive Psychiatric and Evaluation Program to respond to psychiatric emergencies and provides assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) services under Kendra’s Law.

The evacuation of Bellevue marks the second time in as many years that a major tropical storm has disrupted public psychiatric hospitalization. Vermont State Hospital was flooded by tropical storm Irena and has since been permanently closed (“When the state hospital went underwater – literally”). A new state hospital is scheduled to open in Vermont in 2015 but, in the meantime and even with community hospitals filling in, psychiatric patients and their communities have suffered (“Sleeping in Vermont dumpster shows psychiatric cuts’ cost,” Bloomberg News, June 4).

Bellevue reportedly could be closed for two to three weeks. It has not been announced to the public where its psychiatric patients have been transferred or where new psychiatric emergencies will be handled in the interim. The hospital says families are being contacted by hospital representatives or may call 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK from outside the city) for information about a loved one.

Bellevue’s closure is only one of countless challenges hard-hit New York City faces in the aftermath of Sandy. As the only national nonprofit dedicated to those living with severe mental illness, our hope is that the hospital’s services for its psychiatric patients are restored quickly and fully. 

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