Stony Brook Medical Staff Brings Healthcare and Supplies to Devastated Puerto Rico
As the sun was rising over Long Island, a Stony Brook Medicine task force left for Puerto Rico on Oct. 24 to help people still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Twenty-three Stony Brook staff members reported to Stony Brook University Hospital before boarding a bus that took them to JFK Airport and their flight to the devastated island. The Stony Brook contingent is part of a 78-member relief team of personnel from hospitals around the region. The Stony Brook team includes doctors, nurses, a pharmacist, paramedics, nurse-practitioners and nursing assistants.
Richard Scriven, MD, Pediatric Trauma Surgeon, Associate Professor of Surgery; Director, General Surgery Residency Program, and Associate Professor of Surgery at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said the task force team will roll up their sleeves and help however they can.
Some patients will probably require treatment for diarrhea, he said, “from drinking water that’s not the cleanest.” He expects there to be “emergency room-type issues” – people being injured while clearing away wreckage. “And the doctors and nurses down there – their houses were ruined too, so we have to relieve them,” he said.
People may be running out of their usual medications to manage chronic conditions, or perhaps are unable to get pharmaceutical help for urgent care needs. Pharmacist Amanda Eloma, PharmD, is on the team to help with those issues.
As a clinical psychiatric pharmacist, “I’ll see where I’m needed and help with that,” she said. “These are people in crisis.”
For Rolando Valenzuela, MD, an emergency medicine specialist, the trip is not only professional but also personal. As a first-generation Chilean immigrant to the United States, his upbringing taught him the value of helping those in need. Stony Brook medical staff are especially well-trained for this mission, he said.
“As Suffolk County has grown, the population of Hispanic patients has also grown, and I think that’s reflected in the patients we see in our emergency room,” he said. “Seeing the institutional support that Stony Brook is giving to the Spanish-speaking community – and to Puerto Rico – is really heartwarming.”
Other Stony Brook staff have pitched in to manage a whirlwind of preparations that allowed this mission to take place. Travel Medicine administered vaccinations to the medical team (including tetanus, flu and hepatitis A.) The hospital’s emergency preparedness staff ran mission briefings, to prepare the team for living and working with widespread shortages of electricity, food and water. Stony Brook Medicine physicians and nurses stepped up to cover shifts for colleagues going on the 16-day relief effort. To work out logistics on the ground in Puerto Rico, Stony Brook administrators fielded daily phone calls with federal officials.
Thanks came from Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Stony Brook University School of Medicine Dean and Senior Vice President of Health Sciences, at one of the mission briefings.
“Thank you on behalf of Stony Brook for taking time out of your lives,” he said. “I can’t tell you how proud all of us are, in the group of you.”
Noting that local healthcare workers in Puerto Rico need assistance as well as their patients, Dr. Kaushansky said, “Their houses are in shambles. They need time to put their lives back together. So you’re going there to help them too.”
When departure day arrived, the medical task force members crammed every available inch of their bus with cartons of medical supplies. Then they were off, waving a Puerto Rican flag from the bus window and waving to the loved ones gathered to bid them goodbye.
The mission took shape after Puerto Rico requested medical help under an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) Mission Order Authorization Request. At the request of NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo, the NYS Department of Health, the Healthcare Association of New York State and the Greater New York Hospital Association worked with medical facilities across New York to develop and deploy teams to Puerto Rico.