Connecticut Caregivers Come Home After Treating Patients in Louisiana

Vol. 18 •Issue 22 • Page 23
Connecticut Caregivers Come Home After Treating Patients in Louisiana

More than 400 Louisiana patients can attest to the value of Connecticut volunteer caregivers who recently returned home after providing 12 days of relief medical care to residents in that Hurricane Katrina-stricken state.

Nearly three dozen members of the Connecticut One Disaster Medical Assistance Team (CT1-DMAT) were deployed to serve in Thibodaux, La., a community of about 15,000 located 45 miles southwest of New Orleans, relieving another unit.

These were sick and injured people and chronically ill people, said Mark Gaines, MS, RN, RRT-NPS, one of the volunteers. They presented with lacerations, wounds, injuries and infections related to evacuation. Some of them had problems caused by exposure to contaminated water. “They had no clean clothes and no medical care for injuries,” he said. “That was on top of respiratory components in many instances.”

Every patient had stories of horror to relate. Most had lost everything they owned. “One woman had been plucked off a steeple of a church by a helicopter,” said Gaines. “The way she told the story was memorable.” But at the end of the day, hers was just one more tale of human misery.

CT1-DMAT provided eight nurses (including one from neighboring Rhode Island), a handful of physicians, eight paramedics, a respiratory therapist and a sprinkling of physician assistants, nurse practitioners, sanitation experts, EMTs, environmental officers, firefighters, a dietitian, transportation workers, logistics and administrative personnel and communication specialists.

Coming Together as Team

“This was our first time deployed as a full team,” explained physical therapist Michael Purcaro, MS, PT, public affairs officer for CT1-DMAT and a public health official with the Connecticut Department of Public Health. “The team really came together for this mission. Everybody brought something to the table.”

The Louisiana contingent was just part of the entire 120-person CT1-DMAT whose members stand on ready alert 24/7, connected via a sophisticated satellite phone system. Once summoned to action, the command center can contact all members of the team within minutes.

In prior activities, DMAT members saw action at the Democratic National Convention, the International Policemen’s Memorial Convention and at various venues in our neighboring New England states.

Make no mistake though. DMAT members did not have an easy mission in Louisiana. Once deployed, they flew to Houston and rode out Hurricane Rita in a schoolhouse near Donaldsonville, La., midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. “We were relieved it did not hit us worse,” said Gaines. “And it could have been a lot worse.”

Once they began offering services through the Red Cross shelter in Thibodaux, “we didn’t have anything too critical,” he explained. Nonetheless, the team was equipped to handle any type of medical emergency from scrapes and bruises to triage duties and treating people right in the field.

“From a respiratory care standpoint, most of what we did was oxygen treatments and nebulizer treatments,” noted Gaines. “There were a lot of people with asthma attacks caused by mold. We worked with 20 to 30 people who had lost their MDIs in the flood.”

And in the midst of the treatments, the patients relayed experiences like seeking shelter in attics of houses and later chopping their way through the roofs with axes.

Strike Force at Work

Volunteer activities were not confined to the Red Cross center. DMAT caregivers went into the field wherever they were needed, and one Strike Team of five to eight people ventured into the Big Easy to help Touro Infirmary personnel get their facility open and to help staff a make-shift emergency facility set up inside the New Orleans convention center.

DMAT members are consumate volunteers. They purchase their own brown khaki uniforms and boonie hats and anything else they may need in the field. They attend monthly training meetings on their own time, providing their own transportation. Once deployed, they function under a military-type line of authority. Their jobs are protected by law when they are deployed.

The main impetus for the creation of DMAT units followed on the heels of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in New York. Since then, the units have expanded across the nation. Connecticut would like to create at least one more DMAT team or possibly two. States like California and Texas already have multiple teams.

There is room in any DMAT for nearly any type of volunteer. While caregivers of all medical persuasions are needed, they rely on non-medical personnel like truck drivers, safety personnel and procurement staff too.

CT1-DMAT will be getting even more support in the future and expects to have a multi-million dollar 100-bed MASH-type mobile hospital available. “It will be a portable ER we can deploy anywhere in the nation,” explained Purcaro.

All states can use additional volunteers, and especially needed are respiratory therapists. For information on joining, check on the Web site at to find the DMAT unit closest to you.

You can reach Vern Enge at [email protected].