Staying Calm Before the Storm
||Joseph Marcellino, Associate Director of Emergency Management at Coney Island Hospital
As a teenager who played tennis in the juniors circuit and was talented enough to once face off against a young John McEnroe, Joseph Marcellino learned early the value of preparation and training. It’s a lesson he applied when Hurricane Irene hit New York City last year and one he has carried with him during more than 30 years spent working as an emergency medical services and emergency preparedness expert.
Three days before the storm hit on August 27, Marcellino was already planning the details of what became an unprecedented and successful evacuation of about 270 patients from Coney Island Hospital.
“Such a process is nothing short of a herculean effort,” Marcellino said. “We had doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and staff, ambulance companies, and city and state emergency management teams working in concert.
“Evacuating a hospital is more than moving patients,” he added. “It involves the seamless transfer of vulnerable people while maintaining their continuity of care.”
As Associate Director of Emergency Management at Coney Island, Marcellino is responsible for the implementation and coordination of all emergency management activities, and has developed and instituted a training curriculum that is required for all 2,900 staff members, from top leadership to part-time workers and volunteers.
That training was put to the test as Hurricane Irene moved up the East Coast. Mayor Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of all low-lying Zone A areas, including Coney Island Hospital, where you can see the Atlantic Ocean from the second floor. Marcellino coordinated the safe evacuation of about 270 patients, including 15 newborns, two children, and 16 people on ventilators. Patients were moved to HHC hospitals including Kings County and Woodhull, and several other medical centers. The entire transfer operation happened in a condensed and busy 12-hour period.
Marcellino, a nationally recognized expert in public health emergency management, institutes policies and procedures for full regulatory compliance with federal, state and city health and other governmental agencies and all applicable regulatory bodies, including the Joint Commission. He is the hospital representative to all governmental and community organizations on all emergency management organizational and operational preparedness activities.
“Joe brings a wealth of knowledge and years of experience in emergency management to Coney Island Hospital,” said Arthur Wagner, Senior Vice President and Executive Director at the facility. “His preparedness and ability to lead others make him uniquely qualified to head our emergency management team.”
Marcellino, 53, grew up in Flatlands, Brooklyn, where his family instilled in him the value of giving back to the community, leading to his interest in public service, and television shows of the 1970s such as “Emergency!” sparked his interest in EMS work. As a teenager he joined the Flatlands Volunteer Ambulance Corps, where he still volunteers today.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Wagner College and a Master’s degree in Public Health from New York Medical College.
From 1980 to 1992, he was an HHC EMS worker and senior supervisor. His first assignment was Coney Island Hospital. He also worked at Bellevue and Kings County hospitals, treating and transporting victims of car accidents, fires, building collapses and plane crashes.
“It made me better understand what needs to be done,” he said. Now EMS is part of the Fire Department.
After administrative stints at St. Agnes Hospital and Brookdale University Hospital, Marcellino went to work for the city Office of Emergency Management, first as a consultant and then on staff, from 1999 to 2007, where he directed emergency health and medical preparedness activities. He returned to Coney Island Hospital in 2007. During downtime, Marcellino still enjoys playing tennis and watching classic movies with his wife, Kelly.
After last year’s hurricane, hospital staff decided to review the evacuation process using Breakthrough, HHC’s performance improvement method, for ways to enhance the process.
“There’s always room for improvement and that’s why we have to continue to review what’s in place,” Marcellino said. “We’re always looking at best practices in the ongoing work to improve patient safety, manage any emergency, carry out agreed-upon procedures and improve the experience for patients and staff.”