Dealing with Different Disasters

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media , April 15, 2013
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This article appears in the April 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Jonathan Allen, MD, FAAEM, FAWM, medical director of the emergency department at Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma, La., took his first week off in months in January, duck hunting almost every morning with his friends in the marshes of southern Louisiana. His earlier vacation plans were interrupted when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast in October. As chief medical officer for the Florida 1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Allen deployed to Edison, N.J. (his home state for 25 years), for one week and then to New York City for one week. Over his four years with DMAT, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Allen has learned you never know what to expect on these missions.

On treating the storm victims: You may envision that going on these disaster missions is sifting through the rubble of collapsed buildings and saving lives on the scene, and there may be some of that going on, but a lot of it, and perhaps the most necessary, is the not-so-glamorous part of helping walk an elderly woman in the shelter to the bathroom so she doesn't trip and fall. That's one thing that made Sandy different for us—we took care of a lot of chronic illness, which is outside of our expertise.

On being resourceful: When we were deployed to Haiti, we were in a very austere environment. We had our tent set up in a landfill basically. We had a rake and we took one of those patient bed pads, which kind of looks like a diaper, and wrapped that over the end of the rake to use as a mop. We didn't have pillows, so when we emptied a box of gloves we would smash that down a little bit and put that pad around it to give people some support for their heads. 

Working in hurricane season: This year we had Isaac. It parked over Houma for eight or nine hours. I was in the emergency room working when that happened, and the eye was set right over us. We were all holding our collective breaths, wishing it would just move on and keep moving instead of stopping and stalling and creating more damage. It's definitely distracting that damage could be hitting your home and you can't do anything about it; but at the same time, your property can be fixed or you can buy new things, but you need to be focused on the patients.    —Chelsea Rice
Reprint HLR0413-11

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Chelsea Rice is an associate editor for HealthLeaders Media.




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