It’s not often that storms as large as Sandy impact our county—and the effects that it had on public health are still being calculated.
HMS reviewed data related to the storm and observed the following data trends in New Jersey:
• Total emergency room registrations were notably reduced statewide on October 29th, the day that the storm made landfall. The following day, registrations either returned to normal levels or showed an overall increase.
• In the week following the storm, emergency room registrations among those 65 and older increased as a percentage of total registrations—from a typical level of 20% to nearly 25%. Conversely, registrations among those ages 12-18 were down proportionately.
• New Jersey utilized classifiers in the EpiCenter system to monitor specific data trends related to Sandy. The storm-related classifiers all showed increases in associated registrations in the days during and after the hurricane. Most of these registrations were related to power outages –people who could not get treatment normally administered in-home, an inability to get medication, displacement, and carbon monoxide exposure.
• When reviewing EpiCenter’s standard syndromic surveillance classifications, only respiratory-associated classifications showed a consistent increase in the days immediately following the storm. This coincides with the increases in carbon-monoxide exposure.
Superstorm Sandy also presented interesting data quality challenges. Some hospitals were not operating at all due to power outages, while others were operating, but their feed was not active (and restoring it was, understandably, not a priority).
Once the feed was restored, facilities could send in all registrations or choose to pick up from the time when restoration occurred.
Distinguishing genuine health events from infrastructure issues under such conditions is not trivial; this experience may suggest processes that will improve the handling of future scenarios.