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Patient’s donation allows ELIH to finish long-desired sea wall

ELIH sea wall

It’s not every day a patient goes to the hospital for treatment and ends up helping the hospital just as much as it helped them. But that’s exactly what happened after the Harold family visited Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport last July.

Cutchogue resident Erica Harold had never been to ELIH until she fell in her backyard and broke her wrist, requiring orthopedic surgery. She and her husband, Peter, were so impressed with the care she received, they felt they needed to contribute to the hospital.

“Everybody in the emergency room was just absolutely fantastic,” Mr. Harold said. “We decided we needed to do something here.”

Mr. Harold approached ELIH CEO Paul Connor to express his gratitude and see what he could do to help the hospital. The two discussed a storm-hardening plan for the hospital that Mr. Connor had been wanting to do for a long time but never had the funds for.

“It was right up our alley,” Mr. Harold said. He and his wife are now retired and moved to the North Fork in 2010. Mr. Harold has experience working with hospital administrations as a health care administrator for the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene and he also has a history of providing financial support for medical facilities.

The storm-hardening plan involves the construction of a cement sea wall that will surround the perimeter of the hospital as well as the installation of a water extraction system and a redundant generator that will be raised above sea level.

“I can’t tell you how important this is and how grateful we are to the Harolds,” Mr. Connor said. “They happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

The project is now underway and completion by September is estimated. Prime hurricane season for New York is from August to November. Mr. Connor did not want to disclose the amount of the donation out of respect for the Harolds’ privacy, but it was enough to cover the cost of the project.

The idea for the project arose after Hurricane Irene and was cemented after Superstorm Sandy, when the hospital was forced to issue a precautionary evacuation. Mr. Connor said it was the first time in hospital history that an evacuation took place and became necessary when water from the bay began to make its way onto the hospital floor.

A four-foot sand berm was constructed as a sea wall to stop the water from coming in prior to Sandy, but water still began coming up from underneath the hospital. Mr. Connor and his staff saw the potential risks this could pose with the hospital’s generator located below sea level. They were able to evacuate the hospital in three hours.

“This storm-hardening is really a patient safety project,” Mr. Connor explained.

Patients were spread out from Stony Brook Hospital to North Shore-LIJ and Peconic Bay Medical Center. The staff traveled and stayed with the patients at the other facilities. Mr. Connor said while he is extremely grateful for all who pitched in to help them during this time, it’s an experience the hospital does not wish to repeat.

Ray Eble, vice president of support services for ELIH, said the project could not come at a better time as hurricane season is quickly approaching. Mr. Eble is one of the main administrators involved with the construction of the sea wall and he said in the past the hospital tried to receive federal funding for the project.

Mr. Eble explained that when they first came up with this idea a full team of representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited the hospital to evaluate the project. But since the hospital did not suffer any serious damage in previous storms it was not eligible for FEMA funding.

“We were fortunate that the Harolds were interested in this project because I’d still be looking for a way to fund this,” Mr. Connor said.

The Harolds said they’re just happy to give back.

“When you have a natural disaster like a hurricane come, your community is going to look to the hospital for help,” Mr. Harold said. “By putting up a sea wall, hopefully, they won’t ever have to again put up an evacuation order and instead they’ll be able to become more of a community member than they already are. Something like that in a natural disaster setting, you can’t replace that.”

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Photo: Peter and Erica Harold outside Eastern Long Island Hospital where a cement sea wall will soon be constructed with money they donated. (Credit: Krysten Massa)