Donate to Hurricane Recovery

DHHS Emergency Medical Staff Respond to Areas Struck by Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Nov. 6, 2017 -- Two regions that saw catastrophic damage from massive hurricanes -- the Florida Keys (Irma) and Puerto Rico (Maria) -- have been receiving medical support from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the latest deployment, Roger Kiser, a hospital preparedness program specialist with the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS), went to Puerto Rico. Kiser was part of a group of 10 specialists assembled by N.C. Emergency Management to form an Incident Management Team. The team deployed Oct. 22 to Puerto Rico for 16 days. It is the second IM team deployed from North Carolina to Puerto Rico.

Kiser coordinated medical assets for emergency medical services, hospitals and public health departments, including ground and air medical transportation and any other transportation that was needed for nursing homes, hospitals or extended care facilities.

Speaking before leaving for the island, Kiser said he looked forward to the mission.

“It’s what we plan for and train for, and what we hope we don’t ever need,” he said.

It is Kiser’s second recent deployment. He traveled to Marathon, Fla., last month with a team from OEMS, part of DHHS.

“That was kind of a different mission,” he said. “We were there to help put together a mobile disaster hospital. It was manual labor, we were outside working, and put together a five-bed emergency department, a triage and waiting area and a six-bed ICU with support unit, and an X-ray and a lab.”

The mobile hospital they built will keep medical personnel employed and their services available to residents of that area, south of Miami. It is a temporary replacement for Fisherman’s Community Hospital, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma. It is expected to be there through the end of the year.

Other team members from OEMS who were Ronnie Murtagh, Zack Stutts, Rob Glover and David Ezzell. Their team was joined by Charles Tripp from N.C. Emergency Management.

The mobile disaster hospital is part of an array of shelters and hard structures maintained by North Carolina OEMS and owned by the state. It was deployed in 2005 to south Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; to Louisville, Miss., in 2014, after a tornado heavily damaged that community’s hospital; and to Kinston, N.C., when flooding from Hurricane Matthew prevented highway access for some areas to Lenoir Memorial Hospital.

While the team set up the disaster hospital in Marathon, Tom Mitchell, chief of OEMS, used personal leave time in September to spend a week with North Carolina Baptist Men preparing food to feed relief workers and people returning to their homes in Key West. His feeding unit later moved up to Big Pine Key to be closer to the largest needs.

“We averaged about 12,000 meals a day,” Mitchell said. “We were prepared to put out as many as 30,000 meals, but we just didn’t need that many. A lot of people came back and their homes were destroyed, so with nowhere to live they left the Keys, and some hadn’t gotten back down there yet.”

Mitchell said that while there, the kitchen was visited by politicians, and others.

“One day we were in a meeting in Big Pine and suddenly there was Tim Tebow,” Mitchell said. “He came up to us at the kitchen, and went out and helped. He stayed and talked with everybody, he served, and he prayed with us.”

Tebow, a former professional football quarterback, is an outfielder in the New York Mets organization. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 as a sophomore at the University of Florida.

Jim Jones