Released: January 10, 2013
After the Storm, a Haven of Shelter and Hope
As Hurricane Sandy approached the eastern U.S. shoreline in late October, CDR Mark Clayton watched the news and tracked the storm's path. As a homeowner, he was cautious and concerned about the storm's potential impact on his house. As a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), CDR Clayton knew he could be deployed to a stricken area to provide relief and support.
On the afternoon after the storm made landfall, the call came through.
"There had been some alerts and notifications that we should prepare, and on Tuesday afternoon, we were given one hour to be at the staging site," said CDR Clayton, Deputy Director for Grants Management of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. "We got on buses and went to New York for our assignment."
The 'we' CDR Clayton referred to is a PHS Rapid Deployment Force, or RDF. Developed in 2006 to provide support in the event of a public health issue, RDFs are deployed in both emergency and non-emergency situations. CDR Clayton is part of RDF-2, also known as "PHS-2," a Tier 1 team that can deploy within 12 hours of activation.
PHS-2 was assigned to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York to assist in the transfer and care of nursing home patients whose facilities had been damaged or had lost power. Two vacant floors at Brookdale were given to the PHS-2, and CDR Clayton said the challenges were immediate and daunting.
"We received nearly 100 patients over a two-day period. The team initially had three physicians and seven nurses, and there were no certified nursing assistants from the nursing homes," said CDR Clayton. "For the first few days, our non-clinical officers were responsible for feeding people who can't feed themselves, as well as caring for their daily hygiene needs."
In addition, the PHS-2 was establishing an electronic medical records (EMR) system for the nursing home patients. Complicating this effort was the temporary use of paper records, meaning that until the EMR was fully functional, two medical records systems were in use concurrently. Records would be prepared on paper, and then transferred to the in-testing EMR, while prescriptions and doctor's notes were collected exclusively in the EMR.
Public Health Service Rapid Deployment Forces have deployed throughout the country since their inception. The response to Hurricane Sandy marked their first major deployment since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
While the work was demanding, CDR Clayton said the two-week experience was not without its light and heart-warming moments. In addition to the gratitude and thanks expressed by the patients, and the welcoming and accommodating spirit of hospital staff, CDR Clayton said the geographic setting of the hospital contributed to a generally positive attitude.
"The community surrounding Brookdale University Hospital has a significant Jamaican population, so every day we would hear upbeat Reggae music playing in the cafeteria, and a lot of the hospital staff had Jamaican accents," CDR Clayton said. "Once the sun came out and the weather got nicer, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you were in the Caribbean."
Another highlight for the team came shortly before their two-week deployment ended - members of PHS-2 were invited to augment the New York City branch of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Association in New York City's Veteran's Day parade.
CDR Clayton said that once the initial assessments and challenges were overcome, the team that was deployed to relieve them, RDF-1, essentially assumed a sustainment mission. He said the long hours, the unfamiliar duties and responsibilities, the nights of sleeping in the basement classrooms, and the logistical challenges are small prices to pay for the privilege of serving one's country.
"This is the purest form of service for the U.S Public Health Service, and it is the reason we exist," CDR Clayton said. "The United States is the only country in the world with a uniformed Public Health Service, and responding to our citizen's public health needs is the reason we are here - not for foreign operations, but for serving the American public."
The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) funds innovative bio-medical competitive awards making an impact on research in cancer, military relevant injuries and conditions, and specific disease programs for the benefit of all Americans. The CDMRP is a subordinate command of the United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Department of Defense (https://cdmrp.army.mil).