Hospital ravaged by Hurricane Sandy hurries to rebuild, help clients

Front-row seats are normally desirable, but not when the featured attraction is being labeled a “Frankenstorm.”

VCA Bayview Animal Hospital, an AAHA-accredited clinic located in Toms River, New Jersey, found itself directly in Hurricane Sandy’s path and may have been one the hardest-hit hospitals around.

Despite being in the middle of a sizable cleanup effort, Bayview Hospital Manager Melissa Connahey took a few minutes on Nov. 8 to discuss the storm’s impact on her hospital.

Surveying the damage

The hospital’s staff wasn’t able to inspect the damaged facility until Oct. 31, and the road leading to the hospital was only accessible by boat. Around the area, Connahey observed lengthy lines at gas stations and only one open restaurant - Chili’s - which was packed with diners because it was the only eatery serving food.

Connahey recalled her state of mind when she first witnessed the destruction her hospital had sustained.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t cry hysterically the first day trying to call my corporate office and explain what happened because unless you’re here, you can’t … it’s horrific,” Connahey.

According to Connahey, the hospital building had taken on 24 inches of water, and many items that were stored close to the ground had been lost. Heavy freezers from the Italian ice shop next door had even been floating around, which shows the amount and strength of incoming water, she said.

Prior to the storm's arrival, Connahey said the hospital had taken preemptive measures to prepare for the storm, including bracing doors and windows, moving animals to a different hospital, disconnecting electrical equipment, and even covering some items with cadaver bags.

The measures saved much of the valuable equipment and supplies, Connahey said, but the building itself took a heavy hit. Due to the flooding, Connahey said they had to bring in a cleanup crew to prevent molding by taking down the hospital’s walls.

Expediting cleanup to help clients

The damage was shocking to hospital staff, but Connahey said after surveying the post-storm scene and shedding some tears, the staff knew they had to roll up their sleeves and start cleaning up.

Most of the hospital’s clientele live in the same area and some of them even lost their homes in the storm, Connahey said. The knowledge that some of their clients are living in shelters and stressed about their pets’ welfare gave her staff added motivation to get the hospital operating again.

“We want to get up and running and have cages set up as quickly as we can so we can take those pets in for them so that’s one less thing they need to worry about,” she said. “Usually it’s a little easier to stay with friends and family if you don’t have your pets with you.”

One beneficial aspect during the recovery effort has been support from other hospitals within the VCA network, Connahey said.

“Thankfully, we have a network of VCA hospitals, so everybody has been so helpful with giving us whatever we need or sending our clients wherever we need to send them,” she said.

According to Connahey, the clinic’s hospital section where they perform surgeries and other procedures will not be open for another four to six weeks, but their main area should open by the end of next week.

They are still helping as many clients as possible by sending Medical Director Rebecca Guglielmo, VMD, and Associate Veterinarian Jaclyn Gaddy, DVM, on house calls, as well as providing animal food and medications in their parking lot, she said.

Staff staying strong during recovery

The recovery effort has been made difficult by long hours, tough physical labor, and cold weather made even colder when they couldn’t turn on the heater because there was still water in the building, Connahey said.

The staff members even had to deal with a Nor’easter on Nov. 7 that dumped 8 inches of snow on them.

Throughout the ordeal, Connahey said the hospital’s staff have proven that they have the dedication to the hospital and its clients needed to get things running again.

“They’ve (the staff) made my life easier because they didn’t have to come here and put on gloves and rain boots and clean up all of this stuff, and they just did it,” Connahey said. “And they keep going every day and they keep coming back every day, and that’s all we can do is move forward.”