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LI hospitals help homeless employees

Mary LaPorta, an employee at Franklin Hospital, with

Mary LaPorta, an employee at Franklin Hospital, with her dog Ruby and son Anthony in the living room of a home provided to her by North Shore-LIJ. LaPorta's home in Broad Channel was destroyed by superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 13, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Several Long Island hospitals are providing housing, food and even loans to staff left homeless by Sandy, while others are still trying to find out how many employees need help.

No one knows how many of Long Island's more than 47,000 hospital workers remain homeless more than two weeks after the superstorm -- even while many continue to go to work.

"It's safe to say it's in the thousands," said Janine Logan, spokeswoman for the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, which has set up the Hurricane Sandy Health Care Employee Relief Fund.

Long Beach Medical Center, which was evacuated before the storm and remains closed, is still trying to reach many of its 1,200 employees, about half of whom lived in the Long Beach area, spokeswoman Sharon Player said. "We still have to quantify the number," she said. "We know we still have staff living in shelters."

She said the hospital hopes to reopen its nursing home in four to six weeks. How soon the more badly damaged hospital can reopen is unclear, she said. Meanwhile, those employees who have continued to work -- such as nurses who went with their patients who were evacuated to other hospitals -- are getting paid. Player said the hospital is encouraging those not getting a paycheck to apply for disaster-related unemployment benefits.

Paul Giordano, vice president for human resources at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, said about 400 employees have come forward so far looking for help; about half of them have said their homes are uninhabitable, he said.

But the number could be higher: "We're not really sure," he said. Like other officials interviewed, Giordano said many people may be reluctant to come forward. "People don't like asking for help," he said.

The hospital has been distributing water, Meals Ready to Eat, diapers and toilet articles, and offering counseling and disaster information to employees Much of the help has been informal -- employee to employee.. Luiza Pinto, a recruiter in human resources at South Nassau, said fellow workers have given her clothes, shoes and boots after her Oceanside condo was flooded.

Other hospitals have provided temporary housing for their workers. Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow has opened up 38 apartments on its campus for employees and their families. CSEA Nassau Local 830 has provided them with cots and linens, and the nonprofit Island Harvest has donated food.

About 100 employees at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola are unable to live in their homes, spokesman Ed Keating said. The hospital has found temporary housing for a handful and has worked to help others find housing. Employees have donated food and clothing, he said, and the hospital is providing counseling.

The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, the largest health care provider in the region, has started the most comprehensive relief effort for its employees. The health system raised $2.3 million from a fundraiser Nov. 5 and from employees and trustees, three-quarters of which is going to help staff, said spokesman Terry Lynam.

So far, the health system has placed 250 people into temporary housing -- either by putting them in houses used by medical residents or in rented apartments, for which the health system has paid the security deposit and first month's rent. North Shore-LIJ is also providing interest-free loans of up to $7,500 to employees who suffered major storm losses.

To help non-employees, the health system has given $250,000 to Newsday's Hurricane Sandy Long Island Disaster Relief and $250,000 to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which was started after 9/11, to help Sandy victims on Staten Island and in Queens.

For health care workers left homeless, the temporary housing has been a godsend.

"I was desperate. This was the greatest thing," said Shyni Charley, a nurse manager at NUMC. A tree caved in the roof of her Island Park home. The only other option for her, her husband and their two children was to live with another family already putting up two other families, she said.

Mary LaPorta, a part-time employee in admitting at Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream, had been living in "two tiny" unheated rooms with eight other family members at the top of her Broad Channel home after it was flooded. On Saturday they moved into a five-bedroom house near the hospital provided by North Shore-LIJ. The hospital got prescriptions filled for her disabled nephew and brought them food, clothes and linens, she said.

"I don't know how I would have lived through this without their help."