The city now says Hurricane Sandy took the lives of 45 New Yorkers, but NY1 has learned that the toll was far higher: In Coney Island, almost four times that number died within months of evacuating due to the storm, and ironically, the effort to save them may have led to their deaths. Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
After Hurricane Sandy hit, it took three days to rescue elderly and disabled patients from the Sea Crest Health Care nursing home in Coney Island. They stayed in the waterfront building through the storm and after.
The 611 residents waited three days without power or heat until FEMA rescued them. Now, NY1 has learned that within three months of that evacuation, 125 of those 611 patients died.
"Unfortunately, there were a number of deaths,” said Michael Schrieber, executive director of Sea Crest.
Schrieber said that after an event like Sandy, any abrupt change is catastrophic to a frail population. The American Health Care Association refers to it as "transfer trauma."
The national organization studied the effects of evacuations on the nursing home population after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav, among others, and found that death rates spiked 30 to 90 days after an evacuation because of a rapid decline in health.
In a statement, Samantha Levine, a deputy press secretary for the mayor, said that the city realized the risk.
"It is very risky to evacuate elderly and vulnerable people and, along with the state, we decided it was safer to shelter in place," the statement reads.
Sea Crest and the rest of the city's nursing homes were ordered to ride out the storm, even when located in a mandatory evacuation zone. At Sea Crest, the water wiped out all of the building's mechanicals, including the backup generators.
Ultimately, there was no choice but to leave. According to the city, nobody died during the evacuation, but the Health Department did not keep track of nursing home deaths in the months that followed the storm.
Schrieber said that new contingency plans are being worked out for possible future evacuations.
"I think the city has a plan and a better plan, and we've been working together with them, and hopefully, we never see anything like this again," he said.
The Health Care Association study says that with enough time and preparation, nursing home residents can be evacuated successfully. At Sea Crest, though, there was no time.
The nursing home reopened in May after extensive renovations, but without a significant number of its residents.