Just after 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dennis Jiosne was waiting on the street outside Bellevue Medical Center in Manhattan, from which he'd just been evacuated. Jiosne, 34, had been hospitalized a week ago for a septic ulcer. Today, after walking down 16 flights of stairs in the dark, he is waiting on the street for a friend to pick him up and drive him to his home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, a town hit badly by Sandy. Had he not been evacuated, he believes he would have stayed in the hospital another week. Instead, he was given seven days' worth of antibiotics and sent home.
Bellevue, a large public hospital on the East Side of Manhattan, lost power on Monday night. The hospital has remained open by running on generators for two days, but as it became clear that the lights would be out for some time, administrators decided to evacuate the 500 patients still in the hospital. The generators continue to operate, but fuel supplies are tight, there are no working bathrooms, and there is no hot food.
Jiosne was stable enough to make it down the stairs himself, and he said National Guard helped patients who were less able. The past few days have been unpleasant, though not unbearable, he said. Meals have been cold bread or bagels, there is minimal light, and using the bathroom presents a struggle. "You might see one light on across the hall once in a while," Jiosne said.
By the mid-afternoon, still waiting to be evacuated were around 360 patients — some of them prisoners. Two hospitals in New York City host "seriously ill" inmates and those seeking psychiatric attention, one of which is Bellevue; the other prison ward is located in Elmhurst, Queens. An NYPD corrections bus drove by Bellevue when I was there today, but it's unclear where the hospitalized prisoners will be transferred. NY1 News reported that some may be headed to Riker's Island, which also has a prison hospital ward, typically for less critical cases. Patients were processed and loaded onto amublances and buses in an interior courtyard out of view from the street.
Beginning Monday night, NYU Langone, another hospital just a block away, was evacuated after the backup generator failed. It took NYU almost a day to evacuate 200 patients; Bellevue has more than twice as many.
Dr. Natalie Levy, an attending physician at Bellevue, said the mood was calm inside the hospital, though a nurse told ABC News earlier that it was "Katrina-esque." Levy also said that extremely critical patients, like those on ventilators, had been transferred before the storm.
Outside the hospital's main entrance, police tape blocked anyone from entering. A mother pushed her 24-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair. Last week, they'd been told to come back for an appointment to get a new wheelchair today. When they got there, they found the hospital being evacuated. Jiosne waited next to them. "Is New Jersey Transit open?" he asked.