Northwell sends staffers to aid Hurricane Harvey victims

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Northwell Health staff gathered Friday to choose volunteers to aid MD Anderson Cancer Center staff in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Amelia Camurati)

Hundreds of volunteers from Northwell Health are heading to Houston, Texas, to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Northwell President and CEO Michael Dowling said the Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center reached out to Northwell, asking for staff to help relieve their doctors and nurses, most of which have been working non-stop since the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of Texas on Aug. 25.

“We’ve been in constant contact with [MD Anderson] and they have now told us the types of help they actually need,” Dowling said in a press conference Friday. “They need a lot of clinicians, physicians and support staff to subsidize and help what they’re doing down there because, as you can imagine, the increasing needs of patients, plus many of the staff at MD Anderson’s homes have been destroyed and they have been working full-time since this calamity began.”

Dowling said they are sending 40 volunteers on Labor Day for one week, followed by two more 40-person teams for a week each. Though they will only be sending 120 staffers, Dowling said more than 500 Northwell employees volunteered to fill those slots.

“There are an extraordinary number of nurses who immediately reached out, saying they wanted to come to not only assist the patients at MD Anderson, but the nurses as well,” Northwell Assistant Vice President of Cancer Service Line Karen Gleason said. “The nurses at Northwell are exceptional. I can’t even begin to explain the compassion for each other and the patients they have. We’re excited to go to help our colleagues down there and give some relief to them so they can have some rest and support to the patients who need to be seen and be treated.”

Gleason, a registered nurse, said the team will get to work as soon as they reach Houston and would continue to send help to the cancer center if needed.

Mary Mahoney, senior director of emergency planning and clinical preparedness, said she has helped hurricane victims from more than 15 past storms and said the biggest concerns now that the storm has passed and the flooding is receding are normal ailments and increased trauma.

“Just because a disaster occurs doesn’t mean all other medical emergencies stop,” Mahoney said. “People keep having heart attacks. People keep having car accidents. People still have diabetic emergencies. You’ll still see all those medical issues on top of needing to provide the normal care they would in MD Anderson.

“There tends to be a rise in trauma afterward because there are car accidents when people started driving but there are no working traffic lights. There’s traumas from people who started trying to repair their homes and fall off roofs or cut off fingers.”

Mahoney also said now that the shelters have been at capacity for a week, the temporary homes can become a hotspot for disease outbreaks like norovirus and the flu.

“I think all of our staff are taking a bit of a personal sacrifice,” Gleason said. “They’re leaving their families, their homes. They may be giving up child with their children or even their parents who sometimes need care. That’s what nurses do. They are always giving of themselves, and that’s what we do here at Northwell. We don’t wait for the call; we step up first.”

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