University News

Providence locals help with Sandy aftermath

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, James Harper, director of Biology and Medicine, was deployed to Brooklyn, N.Y., to serve with a hurricane relief disaster unit. Harper is a paramedic on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team currently providing care at a special needs center in the Rockaway neighborhood.
The temporary center, located on a basketball court in a YMCA, serves nursing home patients whose nursing homes were destroyed by flooding or lost utilities. Around 500 patients were being treated in the days immediately after the storm, Harper said, and about 300 still remain.
The elderly patients at the center need medicine and a sense of stability, Harper said, adding that the damage that forced them to evacuate their homes has disoriented normally stable patients.
“When you take away electricity, heat, cellphone service, have firemen carrying people out of a building in the middle of the night, they can get confused,” he said.
Many pharmacies are out of service due to flooding, and the prescriptions those pharmacies held are gone. To combat this problem, the relief center has a federally supplied inventory of drugs, Harper said. “Many medicines come nicely with 30 pills in on a card, but a lot of them were turned to mush,” Harper said.
The assistance team of which Harper is a part includes people from the Providence area. DMATs are organized by the Department of Health and Human Services, and Harper said there are teams from across the country currently helping out in the tri-state area.
“We are casual federal employees,” Harper said. “We’ve gone through and qualified to do this, and we are on an as-needed basis.”
His team formed in the early 1990s, he said, and it has helped with relief in previous major disasters in upstate New York and Vermont. They also helped in the aftermath of both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Harper said he expects his team to be deployed in the New York area for no more than two weeks. Another team will then take over either at the center or at another location in need of help, he said.
 In addition to federal assistance provided by teams like Harper’s, community members have sprung to action, he said. Recovery efforts have been aided by restaurants providing free food, religious leaders providing comfort and hundreds of other volunteers helping where they can.
“It’s a multipronged community effort with some Rhode Islanders thrown in to help take care of their medical needs,” Harper said.