Three months after superstorm Sandy forced them to evacuate, most of Long Beach Medical Center's nursing home residents have returned. And a top official is hopeful the hospital will reopen by the end of next month.
"This is their home. The staff is very connected to them," hospital chief executive Douglas Melzer said Tuesday of the 114 residents who began returning to the still-damaged but cleaned and functioning nursing home last week. "They have suffered enough."
On Oct. 28, the day before the storm, the staff evacuated 182 residents to 11 facilities. Sandy flooded both the hospital and nursing home, connected by an elevated walkway, but caused less damage to the nursing home.
Nursing home administrator Dennis Conway said he expects 120 residents to have returned by the end of this week. About 50 of the 182 who were evacuated were short-term residents and some others have died in the interim -- not, he said, because of the storm or the dislocation it caused.
Reopening the nursing home also means that 200 employees have their jobs back. About 700 were laid off as a result of the hospital and nursing home closings. The 162-bed hospital and nursing home were the largest nongovernmental employers in Long Beach, Melzer said.
The first floor of the five-story nursing home, which used to house administrative offices and physical therapy, took in about 31/2 feet of floodwater. It remains stripped to the studs, and the lobby, although cleaned, is barren of carpeting and furniture.
Although the electrical system was only slightly damaged, the heating system had to be replaced. Laundry and food -- formerly supplied by the hospital -- have to be outsourced. The roof also suffered some damage.
Melzer said repairs to the first floor will cost about $1.3 million, to be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Repairs to the roof should be covered by insurance, he said.
As for the hospital, Melzer is now aiming to reopen by the end of March; in December, he had projected mid-March. Sandy flooded the hospital's basement, destroying the heating plant, electrical system, Family Care Center, pharmacy, kitchen, laundry, purchasing department and maintenance area.
Melzer said he has received draft recommendations from FEMA about ways to protect the building, as well as the electrical and heating systems, in case of another big storm, which hospital architects and engineers will incorporate in their plans. "We'll come up with a plan and run it by FEMA," he said.
Restoring the hospital to full capacity could cost about $56 million -- at least 75 percent of which FEMA will cover, he said. The state generally pays 12.5 percent and the institution the remaining 12.5 percent. Melzer said he is hopeful the hospital, financially strapped before the storm and the only hospital for the 38,000 residents on the barrier island, will end up paying less.
In the meantime, nursing home residents and staff alike were happy to be back this week.
June Perby, 92, said everyone at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, where she was evacuated, "was good to us." But she was delighted to return to Long Beach.
"I'm so happy to see all the people," she said.
Constance Curry, a licensed practical nurse who has worked there for almost 44 years, was close to ecstatic.
"How many adjectives do you have?" she said. "Wonderful, fabulous -- I could go on."
Assistant head nurse Gina Maniachi, who has worked at the nursing home for 30 years, agreed.
"It's family," she said. "It's like I haven't seen my family for three months."