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Queens Chronicle

St. Mary’s staff running on empty

Long lines at the pump slow down in-home care for needy patients

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:36 am, Thu Nov 15, 2012.

They’re young. They’re vulnerable. And, perhaps more than anyone else, they’ve been hurt by Sandy.

Among the millions who have been affected by the storm that ravaged the East Coast is a group of approximately 1,000 children who, under the best of circumstances, must fight on a daily basis to survive.

They are among the 4,000 patients served each day throughout the five boroughs as well as Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties by St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Bayside.

Many of those most severely in need will require ongoing specialized care and rehabilitation throughout their lives, the result of injury, illness or complications of premature birth.

Due to Sandy, giving them the care they need has become extremely difficult.

“The storm has really impacted them tremendously,” said Leslie Johnson, the hospital’s director of communications and marketing. “They rely on us in the best of times and certainly now in the worst of times.

“Our organization is finding it a challenge for staff to get out there. They come back with stories of devastation.”

Although the hospital’s home base in Bayside was “unscathed,” Johnson pointed out that the vast majority of its patients, who suffer from highly complex medical issues, are spread throughout the five boroughs and Long Island.

Patients with cerebral palsy, autism, and genetic abnormalities, among other health challenges, rely on medical care and supervision, explained Hope Mavaro Iliceto, the hospital’s chief administrative officer.

They’re “pretty homebound,” she said, making visits by staff members a necessity.

Hospital employees had to “venture out in the storm to access the families to supply medical support,” she said. With phones down and a shortage of gas, the workers became “very challenged. Nurses and therapists are waiting on gas lines,” Iliceto said.

“The sickest have received services this week,” she added. “All our patients are accounted for. We know where our patients are. Many have been displaced. We have accommodated them to the best of our ability.”

According to Borough President Helen Marshall’s spokesman Dan Andrews, “St. Mary’s put in an urgent request to the borough president’s office for gas supplies to enable the home care workers to get to the homebound children. Bayside was not affected by the storm. But the children are not in Bayside.

“The difficulty is the workers have no fuel to get to the patients. We would like to see a special shipment of gasoline to St. Mary’s.”

He spoke of one 9-year-old patient who lives in Far Rockaway with three siblings and their mother as among those most in jeopardy because of current conditions.

The boy’s family, in fact, lost everything, according to Johnson. “They had eight feet of water in their home. He doesn’t have his feeding tube, his hearing aid, his special bed,” she said.

Andrews said the hospital is “being creative, resourceful,” in its efforts to provide the needed services.

“Everyone has a story,” Johnson said. “It’s very sad.”

She added for many of the families “on a good day it’s a challenge. Our staff is doing an incredible job of finding them and reconnecting them to the essentials.”

Many of the patients still find themselves in homes without power, including one 18-year-old who relies on an electric wheelchair to get around.

Several patients’ homes were rendered completely uninhabitable, she said, forcing them into shelters.

Extreme circumstances found some of the patients having to temporarily leave the state. “We were very concerned about one patient,” Johnson said. “She called the agency indicating her safety. She didn’t want us to worry.”

Now St. Mary’s, the largest post-acute care provider of its kind in New York, is asking the public to help by contributing to a special needs fund. Information is available at www.stmaryskids.org

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