Kenneth Langone, the billionaire chairman of New York University Hospital, said he was recovering from pneumonia at NYU Langone Medical Center and had to be evacuated after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power.
“The backup generators failed, it’s that simple, but the story here is the magnificence of the effort of all of our people and what they did,” Langone, 77, said yesterday in a phone interview from his Fifth Avenue apartment. “Just think of the effort to bring down 200 and some patients and they did it, and they did it all night long.”
Langone, who co-founded Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc., said hospital officials expected backup generators to work and were surprised by the severity of the storm. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference late on Oct. 29 that the city hadn’t counted on the hospital’s backup power failing “in spite of them ensuring us that it’s been tested.” The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
“We believed the machines would work, and we believed everything we were told about the scope and size of the storm,” Langone said. “Do you think they’d have kept me in there if they thought I was going to be unsafe?”
While “there’s always investigations” after such occurrences, the hospital will do “everything we can” to improve its facilities, Langone said.
NYU Langone Medical Center, named for Langone and his wife Elaine in 2008 after their $200 million donation, announced in 2011 that it had raised $1 billion in less than four years. Among the plans outlined at the time by the center, run by Chief Executive Officer and Dean Robert I. Grossman, were a pediatric emergency care center, four new patient elevators, a women’s pavilion and a critical-care unit.
“What this dean has done is nothing short of spectacular, in every respect,” Langone said of Grossman. “So last night God decides to give us a test and our machines failed.”
The medical center’s infrastructure is “somewhat old” and its backup generators “are not state-of-the-art and not in the most state-of-the-art location,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary D. Cohn, a member of NYU Hospital’s board, said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview.
“That is all very well known by the board of directors at NYU, and in fact we are undergoing a $3 billion renovation of the entire hospital facility to completely modernize it to ensure that we would have backup power forever,” he said. “We are in a very large philanthropic campaign to try to raise about $3 billion to renovate the hospital.”
Goldman Sachs, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets and the largest by equity-trading revenue, maintained backup power at its lower Manhattan headquarters, which was surrounded by sandbags and sustained some flooding, according to Cohn.
NYU Hospital is in a “massive building program” and will try to ensure “we do as much as we can to be bulletproof,” Langone said. “These facilities are decades, many decades old and one thing about New York City is you don’t have the luxury of flexibility, you’re stuck with the space you have.”
“Machines fail, airplanes take off in great shape and they have malfunctions,” Langone said. “Why do we always need to blame somebody for something that could just have happened? Why not write a story about what people did because things happened? Let’s be a little positive once in a while.”
Langone said he was staying on the 11th floor of the hospital when the evacuation began. He found transportation and returned home before dawn yesterday, he said.
“I’m not feeling up to par but I’m feeling much better,” he said.