In this picture, ambulances arrive and drop patients off at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, where 80 USPHS Commissioned Corps officers of PHS-2 RDF were deployed in response to Hurricane Sandy.
In response to Hurricane Sandy, approximately 400 U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps officers were deployed to affected areas to support local and state efforts and to begin the rebuilding process. One of the many USPHS deployment teams sent to affected areas was the Public Health Service- 2 (PHS-2) Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), comprised of roughly 80 Commissioned Corps officers. The team, comprised of pharmacists, nurses, physicians, health service officers and other specialty health officers, was sent to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York to increase the number of medical personnel within New York where the high level of patients and a reduced number of available personnel caused health care concerns.
In the words of LT Lauren Shade, Environmental Health Scientist Corps officer, when Commissioned Corps officers are deployed as first responders to disasters, they “apply the knowledge and experience from different cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds to best meet the needs of our principle mission of protecting, promoting and advancing the health and safety of our fellow Americans. Some of the work we do is far from glamorous but there's nowhere else we'd rather be than helping those who cannot currently help themselves.”
In this picture, LCDR James Mason, Corps pharmacist, and LCDR Sharon Edelson-Mammel get ready to feed the nursing home patients. LCDR Mason stated “Caring for those that cannot care for themselves in this crisis has reinforced my commitment to protect the American public. I feel as though we are caring for these patients as we would our own families.”
According to CAPT Kenneth Schoendorf, a Commissioned Corps medical officer stationed at the Centers for Disease Control, and a member of the team at Brookdale, “Our role is to help the community, and the individuals within the affected communities, recover from the storm. As a medical provider, I interact directly with the individuals whose lives have been disrupted.”
USPHS officers worked with more than 100 residents from three nursing homes that were evacuated after the storm during their deployment. Nursing patients from the homes were experiencing physical as well as emotion distress resulting from the disruption of their lives. Additionally, Commissioned Corps officers faced challenges in the form of language barriers and the acuity of patient care needed. These challenges were the exact reason the Corps was called into action.
“Through experience, we have become used to, if not inured to, the unpredictability and hectic nature of these missions,” CAPT Schoendorf says. “Even with that experience, the initial volume and acuity of the patients, coupled with our unfamiliarity with the chronic nature of their conditions, stretched our staff.” CAPT Schoendorf added that “the officers have found it necessary to cross train a variety of disciplines to be able to provide the best quality of care possible.”
“The willingness of officers on this team to step outside of their comfort zone to meet the needs of the mission has been remarkable” LCDR James Mason, USPHS pharmacist, weighs in.
CDR Cubie Beasley on what this deployment means to her: “It’s an honor to serve as an officer. I am proud to wear my uniform. Even though at times the days are stressful, it has proven to be worthwhile and rewarding both personally and professionally.”
The PHS-2 RDF team has found operational success in overcoming their task’s many challenges. The response from community and the hospital employees have been great as they “have embraced the Corps wholeheartedly” said CDR Cubie Beasley, who has served as a Commissioned Corps Nurse for ten years. ”Employees pulling us aside asking how they can join the USPHS. We take this opportunity to educate them on the USPHS mission and goals,” She added.
CAPT Schodedorf spoke about what this deployment opportunity meant to him: “I’m lucky to have the opportunity to help those whose lives have been torn apart by the storm. I’m also lucky to be able to do so with a group of likeminded people dedicated to helping improve the lot of people in need.”
LT Shade’s reactions on the deployment: “Most of us can't describe it verbally but display how much we care in our work. We work long hours with limited sleep and resources. We do so without hesitation because we love our country and fellow Americans so dearly.”
LCDR Amy Chi, USPHS nurse, spoke about the camaraderie that officers built not only within the deployment team but with the patients as well, a situation where she felt like she made the most impact was “giving a patient a cup of hot tea and her kissing me on the cheek and thanking me.”
"Seeing people tear up with emotional gratitude makes it all worth it," LT Shade said.
PHS-2 RDF was demobilized two weeks after their start on October 31st. Their successor, PHS-1 RDF, took over and preserved the efforts of PHS-2 RDF during the 'maintenance phase.'