Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 19, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Emergency medical team helped islanders for six days

By ANNE C. BOWERS



While Hurricane Irene was still terrorizing the entire northeast coastline, a temporary medical team arrived by helicopters on Hatteras to provide around the clock health care at the HealthEast Family Care clinic in Avon.

The five-person team arrived the day after the storm on Sunday, Aug. 28, at Billy Mitchell Airfield in Frisco with a full cache of medical supplies that included a complete pharmacy and enough supplies to run a small emergency department. 

Without them, the island had limited medical care available because health care providers followed the mandatory evacuation order issued by the Dare County.

This temporary Special Operation Response Team (SORT) was provided by the state of North Carolina and was based out of Winston-Salem, N.C.

A SORT team is completely self-reliant and goes into areas immediately following a disaster.  They are prepared to sleep in tents and to eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).

According to the team’s commanding officer, Chris Craig, “We are a special response team.  This is what we do.  We get up with the local authorities first and assess their needs.  We don’t just take over but are flexible to fill in the gaps in medical service.”

Upon their arrival, they met with the local fire chiefs, the remaining medical staff, and Hatteras’ emergency operations committee (EOC).  The consensus was to open the existing medical facility in Avon and to run all medical from one location.

Craig marveled at the graciousness of people on the island who were eager to help the SORT team get set-up.

“But, we are here to help you,” said Craig.

With compromised communications directly following Hurricane Irene, the SORT team’s presence spread by word of mouth, the local radio stations that broadcast information non-stop following the storm, and by a vinyl banner draped over the HealthEast sign in front of the Avon facility.

Physician assistant Craig commended the team.  Tammy Sydenstricker filled the role of supervising nurse.  There were two EMTs on the team, Karen Hodge and Scott Pelkey.  Greg Truesdell rounded out the group with his basic EMT training.

SORT utilized about one-quarter of the building and ran two exam rooms and one trauma and one triage bay around the clock following hurricane.  The facility ran completely on its own generator as CHEC worked to restore consistent power to Hatteras Island.

For six days, the team lived at the Avon medical facility and kept the clinic open 24 hours a day, providing free service to the community.  Most of their patients came in for care typical of a general emergency department.  They handled the 911 calls, as well as the walk-in patients.  The SORT team gave a lot of tetanus shots and cleaned up lacerations, which it typical following any hurricane clean-up effort. 

Some islanders kept their regularly scheduled health appointment during SORT’s watch.  They performed baby check-ups and routine physicals. 

There were no babies born and no deaths on their watch, but they provided critical care for some patients who were air-lifted off the island to one of three hospitals -- Sentara Norfolk General, Chesapeake General, and the Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head.

The secondary assignment of the SORT team was to help give the local health care providers time to transition back into work, so they can tend to their personal needs following a hurricane like Irene that impacted their homes, too.

A medical center needs to operate 24 hours a day when phone service is spotty, as was the case for several days.  A doctor can’t be on-call for 911 emergencies if there is a chance that the call won’t go through.

The experienced disaster relief team manned the facility overnight from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. on their last two shifts while regular doctors Al Hodges and Bentley Crabtree took the day shift.

“This allows the local team to ease back in instead of having them hit the road working 24 hours a day,” said Craig.  “We have to be here if there is limited phone service.”

This also allowed for a smooth transition for patients who were receiving regular medical care.

“Everyone was tremendously helpful and generous,” said Tammy Sydenstricker, the supervising nurse.  “Food came from everywhere.  Home cooked meals, too.  We only had to eat MREs the first night we got here.”

From all reports from the five-person medical team, Sandra Crabtree makes amazing brownies.

“The community was uniquely supportive,” offered Craig.  “It was nice and refreshing.”

“They have been great,” offered Judy Banks of the HealthEast staff about the temporary medical team.

Given the magnitude of the long-term damage caused by Hurricane Irene, islanders would have lacked basic medical care without the wonderful and caring individuals who came to Hatteras during this time of need.

The SORT team did get some much needed beach time before the Black Hawk helicopters whisked them away.

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