Wisconsin’s disaster medical assistance team took on its first real-world mission this month, dispatching a team to the East Coast to assist those struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Working under a nationally coordinated emergency response system, Wisconsin’s disaster medical assistance contingent totals 76 physicians, nurses and paramedics across the state, with at least two team members from Racine County, said team commander Jason Liu. On-call teams rotate every three to four months, he said.
Wisconsin’s team returned last Saturday after spending two weeks in storm-ravaged New Jersey and New York, where they set up temporary hospitals on the floor of college gymnasiums that served as treatment centers and shelters for displaced nursing home residents, the homeless and families whose houses were damaged beyond repair in the storm.
“The numbers were in the hundreds that we as a team saw that came through the shelters,” said Gary Rowland, a 48-year-old Whitewater-area nurse who led Wisconsin’s six-member field unit out East.
Rowland described how Wisconsin team members made door-to-door calls to houses where basements had flooded, leaving boilers and heaters beyond repair. In some places, he said, residents had to make outside trips to fill up on fresh water, then lug it back to their homes by hand.
This was the first emergency situation that Wisconsin’s team has been deployed to said Liu, an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Liu said the trip was a learning experience for Wisconsin’s team, a way to evaluate weaknesses and strengths for future missions.
Additionally, he said, it served as a reminder that even as attention in the Midwest wanes, many are still in need on the east coast.
“From what our people saw out east, there was some significant damage from the storm that will take years to fix,” he said.
Rowland recommended donating to the Red Cross to continue helping East Coast residents, many of whom are still without power and running water.
“There’s still a lot of people in need out there,” he said.