Rockaways doctors struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy

Dr. Sapna Parikh reports on the recovery effort that continues in the Rockaways
November 2, 2013 8:20:05 AM PDT
One year after Superstorm Sandy ravaged our area, doctors, like many people, are still struggling to recover.

And they're faced with one main question, is it worth it to rebuild?

A & J Jewelry is located in the heart of Far Rockaway, Queens. It was destroyed in the storm, like many businesses were, and that includes doctors' offices.

"We rebuilt, and it's beautiful," jewelry store owner Arlene Augustine said. "You should stop by and see it."

But the decision wasn't that easy for everyone. When Eyewitness News visited in April, podiatrist Dr. Steven Epstein was operating out of his car. And ophthalmologist Dr. Jonathan Zwerling was seeing patients like Arlene in a trailer.

"Small, very tight," she said. "But it was the same good service."

After a year of repairs, the Zwerling office finally reopened.

"If we didn't come back, where are all these patients going to go?" he said.

But doctors say there has been little financial support from the government, and many residents are still not back.

"It's still been very much a ghost town relative to having grown up here and having practiced here for 27 years," Dr. Epstein said.

So the tough decision for many of the doctors in the area has been whether or not it's even worth it to rebuild.

According to a recent assessment by Doctors of the World, 60 percent of healthcare providers in the Rockaways remain closed.

"We found that nearly a quarter of residents live below the poverty line," the organization's Noah Barth said. "Somewhere around 27 percent were without health insurance, and that there's very high incidence of a lot of chronic disease."

The only hospital remains in financial distress, but officials at St. John's Episcopal Hospital dismissed the rumors they may have to shut down.

"We're not going anywhere," Cecily Broderick said. "Are we stressed? Absolutely."

The hospital is working with relief organizations like Doctors of the World, which just opened a free medical clinic in the Rockaways.

And some doctors are rebuilding. Dr. Epstein is still making house calls for now, but plans to be back in his office soon.