Introduction: National health security requires that healthcare facilities be prepared to provide rapid,effective emergency and trauma care to all patients affected by a catastrophic event. We sought toquantify changes in healthcare utilization patterns for an at-risk Medicare population before, during,and after Superstorm Sandy’s 2012 landfall in New Jersey (NJ).
Methods: This study is a retrospective cohort study of Medicare beneficiaries impacted bySuperstorm Sandy. We compared hospital emergency department (ED) and healthcare facilityinpatient utilization in the weeks before and after Superstorm Sandy landfall using a 20%random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries continuously enrolled in 2011 and 2012(N=224,116). Outcome measures were pre-storm discharges (or transfers), average length of stay,service intensity weight, and post-storm ED visits resulting in either discharge or hospital admission.
Results: In the pre-storm week, hospital transfers from skilled nursing facilities (SNF) increased by39% and inpatient discharges had a 0.3 day decreased mean length of stay compared to the prioryear. In the post-storm week, ED visits increased by 14% statewide; of these additional “surge”patients, 20% were admitted to the hospital. The increase in ED demand was more than double thestatewide average in the most highly impacted coastal regions (35% versus 14%).
Conclusion: Superstorm Sandy impacted both pre- and post-storm patient movement in NewJersey; post-landfall ED surge was associated with overall storm impact, which was greatest incoastal counties. A significant increase in the number and severity of pre-storm transfer patients,in particular from SNF, as well as in post-storm ED visits and inpatient admissions, draws attentionto the importance of collaborative regional approaches to healthcare in large-scale events.