After treating more than 400 injured people from New York last week in the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, local hospitals said the flow of disaster victims had ended and that there are enough beds to serve residents with health problems not caused by the disaster. Hospital spokespersons also offered information on counseling centers that are being set up.
Hundreds of physicians, nurses and other volunteers also waited in makeshift "triage centers" near ferry stations throughout the county Tuesday to treat the more than 60,000 people entering the area by ferries. Two centers went unused, as most of the injured in New York were treated at dozens of hospitals within that city.
Centers in Union City and Secaucus remained relatively empty while those near ferry terminals in Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken served hundreds of patients.
The Union City triage site had been partially staffed with surgeons from across the country who happened to be staying at a Secaucus hotel for a conference, officials said.
At the last count taken by the County Office of Emergency Management, Liberty State Park in Jersey City, which is the largest triage center in the area, had treated about 500 people on Tuesday.
By Thursday afternoon, the park was fully set up as a temporary morgue for victims of the tragedy. While numbers of the casualties in the park or other morgue sites have not yet been released, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced Thursday that the city has ordered a total of 11,000 body bags.
On Tuesday, the North Hudson Regional Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services set up a triage site outside the New York Waterways terminal and another mini-site on the Lincoln Harbor terminal in Weehawken to treat 60,000 people entering New Jersey through Weehawken, more than three times the usual amount.
Besides those entering through the ferry system, cruise ships including the Spirit of New Jersey, Horizon and the Circle Line were also transporting people from New York into Weehawken at the Lincoln Harbor terminal.
"Most people were just exhausted and shocked," said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who was on the scene at the NY Waterway Terminal in the town Tuesday.
Watchful of chemical contamination, the fire departments hosed down people as they got off the ferryboats. Later, reports showed that no contamination was found.
"People were just covered with dust and debris," said Turner.
Jeff Welz, director of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue department, said that most of the injuries were minor.
Joan Quigley, the spokesperson for Bon Secours and Canterbury medical facilities, which oversees Christ and St. Francis hospitals Jersey City and St. Mary's Hospital in Hoboken, and set up the Hoboken triage center, said many people were treated for emotional distress.
Quigley also said more than 3,500 people were tended to at that terminal as they arrived. Each person who was brought to Hoboken or Weehawken was looked at by EMTs; however, not all were found to be injured. According to the official numbers from the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, 100 people from Hoboken and 15 from Weehawken were officially reported injured.
Ailments included asthma attacks, smoke inhalations, burns and heart problems.
At the hospitals
Jersey City Medical Center ushered the first patient into the facility just before 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The victim, a man with burns along his upper body, was later transferred to the St. Barnabus Burn Center in Livingston.
He was one of 175 victims, including one child suffering from upper respiratory distress, taken to the medical center from New York.
According to Bill Dauster, the vice president of Liberty HealthCare System, Inc., which is the parent company for Jersey City Medical Center, Greenville Hospital in Jersey City and Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, the system saw 195 patients and admitted 23 into their facilities. From 10 a.m. to about 6 p.m., the staff worked on the many patients brought to the hospital, stopping only for a moment of prayer on the front steps of the Jersey City Medical Center.
According to Dr. Jonathan Metsch, out of the patients admitted into the system, only three were admitted into critical care units and four were admitted into the orthopedic unit. The others may have suffered from smoke inhalations, eye inflammation and other injuries, he said.
The Jersey City Medical Center utilized all of its space, including the library and auditorium, to treat the victims.
According to Metsch, the center's trauma center was opened to patients with serious injuries. The "walking wounded," or patients with minor injuries who were able to walk, were moved into the auditorium where they were treated.
"We really separated the groups and were able to help them," said Dauster. "This took a lot of the pressure off the emergency room."
Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus saw seven patients, and 11 were taken to Greenville Hospital in Jersey City.
The Bon Secours and Canterbury healthcare system also saw victims on Tuesday. Christ saw 64 people, and admitted one; St. Mary's saw 66 people and admitted three people and St. Francis saw 66 people and admitted four.
Quigley said that there were also a few orthopedic surgeries performed for some people who suffered from broken bones after jumping onto boats or tripping on the rubble on their way into New Jersey.
By 9 p.m. on Tuesday the number of patients entering the hospitals had slowed down and St. Francis received its last two patients at 11 p.m.
"The greatest sadness we felt was when the stream of patients ended," said Quigley.
Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen also saw a total of 12 patients on Tuesday between 1:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Eurice Rojas, the director of marketing and public affairs at the center, said that most of these patients were discharged and were treated for anxiety attacks, dizziness and difficulty with breathing.
Rojas also said that many physicians from Palisades Medical Center were transferred to assist in the rescue effort in New York City.
"They said it was a real horror show," said Rojas, adding that the physicians went to New York after realizing that the center was not getting the brunt of the victims transferred to Hudson County hospitals.
Victims were being transported to a total of 170 hospitals throughout the metropolitan area. Full hospital facilities were also set up in Madison Square Garden and Ellis Island to treat victims.
Despite the heavy activity that the Hudson County hospitals have experienced the past few days, none of them have run out of space for new patients.
"We only had 23 people admitted, and we operate with 450 beds," said Dauster.
The Bon Secours hospitals abandoned their disaster plan on Wednesday, but were still prepared to take in victims.
"We just dropped it down a notch," said Quigley on Wednesday. "I can't say that we are expecting any more patients [from the tragedy], but we are prepared for them."
Barbara Davey, the spokesperson from Christ, said the hospital had 80 to 90 beds available for victims the next day.
Palisades Medical Center, which has 202 open beds, is also ready to take in patients.
Quigley said that her system's hospitals also housed about a dozen people from New York with nowhere to go after being treated, while the chaplains and neighbors of the hospitals also took in some stranded people.
Bon Secours has set up counseling centers at Saint Mary's and Christ hospitals.
"All you have to do is walk into the lobby and say that you want to talk," said Quigley.
The Hudson County Executive's Office released information on five hospitals' community mental health centers that have crisis lines in the area. There are 40 units and teams of crisis intervention workers available at the locations where patients are being brought from New York City.
Residents of Hoboken, Union City and Weehawken are asked to go to Bon Secours, located at 308 Willow Ave. in Hoboken, or call their crisis line at 795-5505. Residents of Guttenberg, West New York, North Bergen and Secaucus are asked to visit Palisade General Hospital's Mental Health Services at 7600 River Road in North Bergen or call their crisis line at 854-6300.
Residents of northern Jersey City are asked to visit Christ Hospital Counseling and Resource Center at 176 Palisade Ave. or call 795-8373. Resident of southern Jersey City are asked to go to the Jersey City Medical Center at 50 Baldwin Ave. or call their crisis line at 433-6161.
The town of Secaucus has also set up a support resource through Intervention Strategies for Secaucus for town employees with family, friends or associates who have suffered from this disaster. The number is (800) 663-0404. Dr. Ed Fox and Dr. Tracey Waldman will be standing by to take your calls.
Prepared for the worst
Unused medical supplies that were donated to the Union City triage center were sent to Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and other area hospitals that requested supplies.
The supplies had been donated from TNT Medical Supplies on Bergenline Avenue in West New York and West New York Medical Supplies on 60th Street, Cornell Surgical Company in Bergenfield, VE Ralph and Son in Kearny, and Englewood Hospital. Narcotics such as Valium and Percocet were ordered by the trauma team doctors and kept in Union City.
The center was not used because a call came from Liberty State Park Tuesday evening telling the doctors and volunteers to go home.
"There were more bodies coming through than injured victims [in Liberty State Park]," said Deputy Coordinator of Emergency Management Fernando Trujillo, who was traveling back and forth between Liberty State Park and Union City.
According to Trujillo, this is when officials agreed that it would be safer to keep victims within New York.
Union City was equipped with a trauma team of ten surgeons from as far away as Florida, California and Minnesota that were among the 250 surgeons attending a conference in Secaucus when the tragedy struck.
Trujillo said victims headed toward Union City were rerouted after EMTs and other medical staff noticed that many burn victims began blistering from what seemed to be a chemical substance. Trujillo said the burns were determined to not be of a chemical nature.
While no patients were treated at the Union City triage, Trujillo said that several people were housed in the recreation center for shelter on Tuesday night.
Secaucus had set up a triage equipped with 40 cots and medical supplies at the town's Ice Rink on Plaza Drive. However, this center also saw no patients.