PART 1. *written by Jonathan M. Metsch on September 14, 2001; published in the Jersey Journal on September 18, 2001
Military helicopters and jets were overhead, as President Bush was getting ready to leave. The plumes of smoke from the World Trade Center were still billowing skyward.
Suddenly a huge white military hospital ship with four Red Crosses steamed by and docked right across river. I thought how this hospital ship brought the war even closer to home but mostly about how the hospitals in Hudson County had responded and performed so magnificently.
Liberty HealthCare System is comprised of Jersey City Medical Center, Greenville Hospital, and Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center. The Medical Center, the County’s Trauma Center, treated 175 patients. Greenville treated 11 patients and processed over 500 volunteers who wanted to give blood; Greenville had originally been asked by the Red Cross to be a blood center but this was changed early on so donor information was passed (every volunteer was “typed and matched”) to the blood collection centers. Meadowlands treated 7 patients and was preparing to be a command center given its heliport; late Tuesday night Governor DiFrancesco used the heliport to depart from his visit to the triage center at Liberty State Park.
Every hospital in the County provided emergency services to victims. According to the Jersey Journal: Palisades Medical Center treated 12 patients; St. Francis Hospital treated 67 patients; Christ Hospital treated 54 patients; St. Mary Hospital treated 74 patients. Bayonne Hospital treated 58 patients.
At the Medical Center staff watched from windows the attack on the World Trade Center, then immediately went on Disaster Alert. Over 150 physicians covering all medical and surgical specialties were in the building as they are every day, and over 1000 other staff joined predetermined teams – trauma and surgery in the emergency room, and “walking wounded” in the auditorium. The library was organized for aftercare and rooms were set up for family members arriving from all over the metropolitan area. The injured started arriving around 10AM and suddenly, and sadly, everything stopped about 6PM. We hope and waited for more patients, and still wait “on alert”, our hope fading.
Since the New York City Command Center was in the World Trade Center complex and destroyed, good information was not available. We were told to expect somewhere between 2000 and 5000 injured.
Many others contributed to our success in handling the medical response to this act of war:
– Over 200 ambulances simply appeared from all over the state to assist. They were restocked from Medical Center inventory and dispatched by Medical Center EMS.
– New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services George DiFerdinando was in contact with us immediately and made sure we were re-supplied, and developed a plan with whereby trauma centers outside of Hudson County were on high alert so patients could be transported there to prevent Hudson County hospitals from being overwhelmed.
– Every hospital in the New Jersey was on disaster alert with elective admissions and surgery cancelled, and disaster teams ready until late Tuesday evening.
– Providers of food, IV solutions, medications, surgical supplies, and much more sent in truckloads of supplies without being asked.
– Volunteers poured in to help us in any way possible. For example with their help a “Hot Line” was set up at the Medical Center with up-to-date information on all disaster victims seen at New Jersey hospitals. This “Hot Line” was soon designated as “official” until the New York City Command Post was reestablished.
– Hudson Cradle opened its doors, wanting to help, wanting to serve.
– Mayor Cunningham and Jersey City police and fire officials coordinated all local efforts while supporting the recovery in New York City and securing the waterfront where victims were arriving by ferry in great numbers to several sites including Exchange Place and Liberty State Park. I know public officials in Hoboken, Secaucus, Bayonne and Weehauken did the same.
– And untold numbers were praying for the victims and those providing care – we could feel those prayers.
How can you help? Volunteer to give blood; blood will be needed for weeks and months to come. If you can, make a cash donation to help the families of those killed in this tragedy. Certainly go to community vigils and prayer services. Befriend someone who does not look like you and let them know that all Americans share this pain together and that the beauty of America is that we all came from somewhere else, and now live and work harmoniously side-by-side.
On a practical level we and other local hospitals can use your help. If you are a mental health worker and want to help with World Trade Center disaster Crises Counseling in hospitals, schools, and offices please call us. If you are a nurse who works outside the County or doing something else right now – particularly emergency room, critical care and operating room nurses, though all nurses are welcome – and want to be on our roster of volunteers for future emergencies please us. And if you just want to join the cadre of volunteers at our hospitals please call us. Please call 201 915-2048.
Finally I want to thank all the staff at Liberty, who once again, provided services so well. They acted heroically while worried about missing family and friends, and their children at home who had to cope with this tragedy without them nearby. I am honored to work with you.
Since Jersey City Medical Center was the New Jersey anchor in the response, I prepared a confidential Lessons Learned memorandum in preparation for a Debriefing Meeting called by the Democratic Party candidate for Governor.
As a courtesy I provided a copy of the memorandum to Bret Schundler, the former Mayor of Jersey City who was out-of-the country on September 11th and could not get back for almost a week. He was the Republican Party candidate for Governor. I forget that “No good deed goes unpunished” and Schundler widely circulated the document as a campaign issue.
“Rookie” mistake! Read the article below. What would you have done differently?
New York Times. September 22, 2001
Schundler Assails New Jersey’s Response to Terrorist Attack
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Making the World Trade Center disaster the focus of his campaign for governor, Bret D. Schundler is criticizing New Jersey’s response to the attack and has released his own plan to improve the state’s defenses against terrorism and its preparedness for future emergencies.
Mr. Schundler, the Republican candidate, has said that both the State Police and the National Guard reacted slowly and mismanaged their resources after the Sept. 11 attack, and that flaws in New Jersey’s emergency-management system made it difficult to coordinate the efforts of hospitals, ambulance crews and other volunteers.
Mr. Schundler, the former mayor of Jersey City, is now calling for bolstering New Jersey’s defenses, including restoring to the nation’s air-defense system an Air National Guard fighter wing that is stationed in Atlantic City and which, until two years ago, had two F-16’s ready to scramble 24 hours a day. He said New Jersey should conduct a thorough inventory of sensitive installations, like power plants, reservoirs and chemical factories, and immediately enhance security at Newark Airport and the the Hudson and Delaware River crossings.
He is also proposing an array of measures to improve the state’s response to emergencies, like maintaining rosters of doctors, nurses, engineers and others who might be needed in the case of another terrorist attack.
Mr. Schundler’s aides described his proposals as an attempt to provide leadership where it was needed and denied that he was trying to jump-start his campaign, which has stalled along with most of the political machinery in New Jersey.
But in critiquing the state agencies, hospitals and other institutions that responded to the attack — while the smoke is still rising from ground zero and many voters are still awaiting the remains of their loved ones — Mr. Schundler is running a huge risk: that he could be seen as trying to make hay out of a national tragedy.
”This is not a political exercise,” said Richard McGrath, a spokesman for James E. McGreevey, the Democratic candidate. ”Jim McGreevey’s been working in a quiet way to assimilate as much information as possible to address emergency needs and prevent future catastrophes,” Mr. McGrath said. ”This terrorist incident has had a profound effect on all Americans, and we don’t intend to parcel it out with any political agendas.”
In a telephone interview he initiated on Thursday, Mr. Schundler described a number of ways in which the state’s response to the attack had apparently broken down. For instance, he said he had been told by a police official in Jersey City that the State Police troopers who set up an operations center in Liberty State Park ”didn’t do much of anything — they just sat there.”
Mr. Schundler added that the troopers’ ”inaction” had forced the city’s police department to coordinate the supply effort for emergency workers, and said that troopers did not even arrive in Jersey City until 4:30 p.m. on the day of the attack.
Officials of the State Police and other agencies today briefed Mr. Schundler and Mr. McGreevey about their efforts. But on Thursday, Col. Carson Dunbar, the superintendent of the force, said there had been numerous tussles over turf in the hours after the attack, which were compounded by the loss of a radio-transmission tower at the World Trade Center, and which could have led to crossed signals about troopers’ assignments. But Colonel Dunbar said that state troopers were on the scene in Jersey City almost immediately after the attack. For instance, he said, one marine unit was among the first to ferry the injured to safety in New Jersey.
On Thursday, Mr. Schundler also released a five-page memorandum about breakdowns in the state’s response system that was prepared by Jonathan M. Metsch, president and chief executive of Jersey City Medical Center, which treated 175 people hurt in the attack.
The memo noted that police from outside Jersey City had prevented staff members from getting to the hospital; that National Guard troops who drove ambulances to the hospital ”had no leadership and provided no help”; that the blood donor system ”did not work”; and that it ”took too long” to prepare a list of the injured being treated at New Jersey hospitals, meaning each hospital was inundated with thousands of calls.
Dr. Metsch, reached today, said he had written the memo for state health officials, that it amounted only to his own impressions, and that he had done so merely to ensure that lessons would be learned, not to assess blame. He said he provided a copy to Mr. McGreevey on Wednesday after a private meeting of hospital executives that Mr. McGreevey had called to inquire about the response to the twin towers attack and ways to improve New Jersey’s readiness.
Dr. Metsch said he then provided a copy to Mr. Schundler, whom he called a friend, as a courtesy. But he said he had not expected the memo to be released to the public. ”These were off-the-record observations,” he said, adding that over all, New Jersey performed admirably.
But Bill Pascoe, Mr. Schundler’s campaign manager, said Dr. Metsch had not asked Mr. Schundler to keep the memo confidential. And he said Mr. Schundler’s use of it transcended politics.
”If the U.S. responds anytime in the next few days or weeks, we may be facing an immediate counterattack from the terrorists,” Mr. Pascoe said.
”We don’t have the luxury of time to let the dust settle. We have to use this event and our response to it right now as a learning exercise. What have we learned about what we did right and did wrong? What can we do better? That’s the point, and that’s the job of a leader.”