CEO of Florida's Mount Sinai: 12-year hurricane preparedness project enabled our hospital to stay open during Irma

Steven Sonenreich serves as president and CEO of Miami Beach-based Mount Sinai Medical Center, south Florida's largest private independent nonprofit teaching hospital.

In this role, he was recently tasked with helping guide his organization through preparedness for and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Mount Sinai never shuttered services during the storm and took in patients referred to the medical center by county officials.

Mr. Sonenreich recently answered questions from Becker's Hospital Review about lessons learned from this experience and Mount Sinai's preparedness efforts.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Question: How did Mount Sinai prepare for Irma? 

Steven Sonenreich: Our attitude about hurricane preparedness and resiliency really starts going back to 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma — a very active hurricane period in our state's history — and we decided back then that it's time to make certain our facilities were as hurricane proof as possible. So for the last 12 years we've embarked upon a program to install hurricane-resistant windows and roofs and make major changes to our infrastructure to withstand hurricane-force winds. And we, probably most importantly, built a major power plant facility which can withstand winds of 185 miles per hour where our generators are raised over 30 feet above ... the flood plain. So power, as I believe everyone is recognizing, is the most important aspect of having a safe environment for our patients. And the steps we took beginning in 2005 proved to be the right steps so we were able to be here, to be of service to ... patients here at our hospital and to have a safe environment for our patients and employees who were here during the storm period.

Q: What kind of effect can Irma have on healthcare in affected areas?

SS: I believe you'll see institutions that are in areas like our own are going to begin to [do], if they haven't already, what we've done over the past 12 years — and that is attempt to hurricane-harden their facilities — and that's a very expensive undertaking. Since hospitals by their very nature are extraordinarily capital intensive year in and year out, there's a commitment to technology and to electronic health records. There's so much competition for capital on a normal basis in hospitals. This adds an enormous capital burden to those who decide the importance of being hurricane hardened. But it's not just hospitals, it extends to long-term care facilities as well.

Q: What lessons have you learned through this experience?

SS: Your priority in leading an institution is patient safety and the safety of the employees. We keep that as our priority and as our guiding light if you will, and we're very committed to continuing to do that on an ongoing basis.


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