Veterinarians in NY and NJ detail storm's impacts on local practices

Parts of New York and New Jersey were hit especially hard by Hurricane Sandy, while others escaped relatively clean and clear.

It will likely be a while before it is possible to accurately gauge the overall impact on veterinarians in those states and others, but NEWStat interviewed two veterinarians from New York and New Jersey on Oct. 31 to find out how the storm has affected their practices and what they have observed in their areas.

Here’s what they had to say.

Solving communications problems

One of the biggest challenges brought on by the storm has been maintaining communications with other veterinarians and clients, said Daniel Stobie, DVM, MS, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Stobie is the chief of staff at NorthStar VETS, a veterinary emergency trauma and specialty center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, and his hospital has stayed open throughout the storm.

He said that although his hospital escaped serious damage, it has been affected by trees that were felled by strong winds. According to Stobie, the trees shut down power lines, telephone lines, and cable/Internet in the area, which has forced them to get creative with communications.

“The phones were down for a while, but we were able to have all of the calls transferred to cell phones,” Stobie said. “And then, we don’t have cable or Internet access, so we’re using some of the hotspots on people’s cell phones to get wireless access.”

When phone contact hasn’t been possible, Stobie said the hospital has been communicating via social media, email, and text messages.

“We’ve done a lot of that, which has really helped because people get nervous when they don’t know what’s going on. I think the vets that have done that via their Facebook page or other messaging to their clients – it’s given the clients a good sense of comfort to know that there’s a place they can get help if needed.”

David Wohlstadter, DVM, who is in the emergency department at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York and also is the president of the Veterinary Medical Society of New York City, said cellular reception “is not that great right now,” which has prompted some communication by text message to veterinarians.

BluePearl Veterinary Partners operates three New York hospitals located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and all hospitals stayed open 24/7 during the storm, as they do normally. Wohlstadter said all three hospitals were fortunate to have escaped damage and not even lost power as did many other relatively close hospitals.

Staying informed

Stobie and others around him have found it difficult to stay tuned to the same breaking news that the rest of the country has been following, he said.

 “It’s funny, we have no TV service here and we haven’t had any since Monday. So we’re having to call people that live in other parts of the country to find out what they’re saying about our area,” Stobie said. “You’re not able to get the news to find out what’s going on even in your own area. It’s kind of weird,”

Managing transportation problems

Flooded streets and subway closures brought New York transportation to a standstill, but it is slowly beginning to move again, Wohlstadter said.

“We all know what it’s like when the public transportation goes down here,” he said.

A portion of the subway is scheduled to reopen on Nov. 1, and some streets are once again filling with traffic, but Wohlstadter said transportation is still a problem.

“There are lots of people walking to work – walking three or three-and-a half-hours,” he said. “There are currently no traffic lights. I walked up to 26th Street today and there were no traffic lights functioning downtown in lower Manhattan still, so traffic’s a little bit of a mess.”

According to Wohlstadter, his hospital prepared for the transportation problems by booking nearby hotel rooms for staff who would otherwise have had trouble moving in and out of the city.

Expecting the unexpected

Stobie’s hospital has stayed busy with an influx of patients from closed hospitals, and he said they have been watching over pets that people brought in for boarding when they had to evacuate or if they didn’t have power.

The hospital has also taken in some unusual guests, he said.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people who have fish are bringing in the fish tanks with the pumps because we have power to keep these very valuable aquariums running. We have a ward for that,” he said.

Stobie said they have also taken in a number of exotic animals that need special lighting or heat.

“But everybody’s pulling together and everybody is in good spirits, so it kind of adds some excitement to the week and it’s a little different than our normal routine,” he said.

Lending a helping hand

Both Wohlstadter and Stobie said their hospitals are doing what they can to help other hospitals in the area. For example, they are helping referring practices who are closed by enabling those veterinarians and their clients stay connected whether it’s by text message, social media, or phone.

Stobie said, “Even a lot of the vets now that are closed or flooded, if they need to use our building to take X-rays, to take bloodwork, or to do a procedure, we like to treat our referring vets as an extension of our practice. So they can use our hospital in any way that’s going to be of best service to them.”

Cleanup challenges await

Wohlstadter said three of the biggest immediate challenges facing many hospitals are getting computers running to access client records, restoring refrigeration for biological materials and medications, and restoring phones so they can communicate with their clients.

Stobie said he thinks many hospitals that haven’t sustained heavy damage will be able to restore business relatively quickly after power is restored, but that conditions are currently inhospitable for people in his area.

“Most average general practices do not have a generator, so there’s no power to really operate. No heating or cooling,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s not really safe for people because there’s no emergency lighting, or the fire alarms aren’t working, or the burglar alarms aren’t working, because all that requires power and telephone connection. And there’s been a lot of fires from storm damage, so it’s probably better to stay put until it’s all resolved.”

Never underestimate people’s dedication to pets

“I have to be honest, I’ve been surprised by how busy it’s been at our hospital, even if people were coming out in the storm,” Stobie said. “But I guess if they’re perceiving a real problem with their animal, they’re going to do what they need to do, and I think having a place to come was a real source of comfort for them.”