With strong ties to Puerto Rico, hospital staff in New York put their lives on hold to conduct vital clinical missions to the island after Hurricane Maria.
The storm hit on Sept. 20, a Wednesday. By that weekend, we were part of calls that the governor's office had put together.
There are incredible ties between New York and Puerto Rico and that even applies to many of our member institutions that have significant portions of their employees with personal ties to Puerto Rico; either they're from Puerto Rico or have family there. There was a very personal outcry from hospital employees across the city and state who said, “We need to do more. We need to help.”
Because we're sending healthcare providers into a disaster situation, there's life insurance and liability and credentialing issues involved. We had to spend quite a bit of time figuring out the structure through which we were going to send them.
We ended up having a first team of 78 clinical staff going down and then a second team, by luck, was also 78.
Our folks landed in San Juan and within 36 hours they all had assignments and were sent to different places around the island. There were a lot of questions about safety and security and how were they going to get fed, what was the chain of command and how we were going to communicate with them. Remember, this was the beginning of October and the power grid and communications were basically nonexistent.
We had someone on our team who had significant experience with incident command and emergency response. That person became a liaison officer and was embedded in San Juan in the HHS headquarters.
As soon as "Team 1" went down, we started inviting the other team to come in and join our daily calls. They got to listen in for two weeks about what was happening on the ground and were able to really prepare their clinical teams for what they were going to see. That was just invaluable.
Some very cool stuff happened. New York-Presbyterian sent 12 people on the first team and 13 on the second, and they were able to set up a telehealth system. A satellite dish was brought in near the clinic where they were working. They set up a link with Columbia University Medical Center and were able to do peer-to-peer consultations.
Clinicians from Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens were embedded with AmeriCorps and stationed in Rincon, which is on the western part of the island. For the whole two weeks they were there, they staffed mobile medical clinics and made home visits to these very remote parts of the island that frankly hadn't seen medical care. So it was incredibly rewarding for them on a personal and professional level.
And I also think it was hard for them to go. They are worried about their patients in New York. They are worried about their families.
Hospitals have been paying a lot of attention to those employees since they got back.