An exterior view of the Long Beach Medical Center, located...

An exterior view of the Long Beach Medical Center, located on 455 East Bay Drive in Long Beach. (March 15, 2002) Credit: Nelson Ching

Long Beach Medical Center will reopen, but it may be in stages and how soon remains unclear.

That's the word from chief executive Douglas Melzer. Before Sandy hit on Oct. 29, the 162-bed hospital and its nursing home -- the major medical facility on the barrier island -- evacuated about 250 patients and residents to three other hospitals and nine nursing homes.

Since then, it has set up a command center at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, where the Long Beach hospital administration is beginning the process of cleanup and damage assessment.

The federal government has flown in a team of volunteer doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to help provide care to the community in the interim.

"It's just terrible. I can't overstate it," Melzer said of the impact of the storm on the hospital and the community.

The hospital's basement on East Bay Drive was flooded, as was the first floor of the nearby 200-bed Komanoff Center for Geriatric and Rehabilitation Medicine. The first floor of a building on Park Avenue that housed administrative offices, an outpatient lab and a home-care agency were also filled with water.

As of Tuesday, the buildings had been pumped out, a restoration company has started cleanup and engineers were beginning to assess the damage, hospital spokeswoman Sharon Player said.

But when the hospital and nursing home will reopen remained unclear.

"That might be done in phases," Melzer said. "We might bring up the emergency department first."

The hospital's 400 nurses are working wherever their patients were evacuated. The rest of the 800 full- or part-time employees are "kind of in a limbo," Player said. About half are from the Long Beach area, and many have suffered their own losses. Getting them back to work quickly is a top priority, she said.

The hospital has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which sent in a disaster medical assistance team from Texas on Sunday. The team is a group of volunteer doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who provide medical care during a disaster.

Player said the medical team has been key in delivering short-term health care, but reopening the hospital quickly is critical. "We're it on this island," she said.

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