Doctors manning mobile medical units report widespread problems with wounds -- cuts and scrapes people get from hidden nails or surprise shards of broken glass and metal as they try to haul out soggy sheetrock, insulation, and carpeting.
And health officials say they fear they will see more cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“There’s still many thousands of people who we believe are living without heat,” says Dan Kass, MSPH, deputy commissioner of environmental health for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “We get really concerned about people resorting to desperate measures to stay warm. Turning on gas stoves, gas burners to stay warm, and using generators indoors,” he says.
Electric generators churn out carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas. Carbon monoxide easily replaces oxygen in the blood. People can quickly be overcome if a generator is used indoors or in an attached garage.
On Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned landlords of storm-damaged buildings to take immediate action to restore heat and electricity. New York City has established a Rapid Repairs program to help homeowners and landlords who don’t have finances to begin repairs on their own. Health officials are urging people to sign up for the program on the city’s web site. They also advise all residents living in cold buildings to find temporary shelter.
Medical Care in Short Supply
Many medical offices in hard hit areas are still closed after flooding, leaving residents without access to the prescription medications they need to manage chronic breathing problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and allergies.
These problems coupled with the mold that’s begun to bloom on wet walls and floors have left many people breathless and wheezing.
“They really haven’t been able to see their doctors,” says Maria T. Carney, MD. Carney is the director of community-based geriatrics at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. She’s coordinating a free medical van that’s bringing care to the Rockaway and Long Beach communities in New York.
While they can deliver some kinds of urgent care on the spot, in more severe cases, “we’re really triaging people who maybe need to see a specialist or go to the hospital,” she says.
Carney says they’re treating about 30 patients a day. Typical injuries have ranged from athlete's foot (a fungal infection that thrives on wet skin), to coughs and colds, to deep cuts that need stitches and tetanus shots.