Madeleine Whalen, a registered nurse in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Emergency Department, had never responded to a natural disaster before embarking on a medical mission with the Johns Hopkins Go Team to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands after hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Whalen recalls one memorable Spanish-speaking patient who lost her home after Hurricane Irma and had hurt her back jumping out of her house. Whalen, who speaks Spanish, was able to treat the patient after she came down with pneumonia while living in a shelter. "The patient would normally be admitted, but this wasn't possible at the clinic," Whalen says. "After treating her for about a week as an outpatient, she recovered from pneumonia, but she will likely have back pain for the rest of her life."
The Go Team is a multidisciplinary team, organized by CEPAR—the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response—that upon receiving a formal request from a federal or local government, or other reputable nonprofit organization, can rapidly deploy to areas impacted by natural or man-made disasters to assist with urgent medical needs.
The team's director, Christina Catlett, MD, deployed to St. John on Sept. 17 in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the island with its 185 mph winds. A few days later, Hurricane Maria also tore through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, slamming Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Three waves of Go Team members deployed to St. John in a six-week span to provide and support patient care. Along with Catlett and Whalen, the team included Tammy Aungst, PA; Robert Greenberg, MD; Emily Kluck, PA; Denisse Mueller, MD; George Murray, RN; Sara Gray Ngaothong, RN; Sharon Owens, ACNP-BC; Jessica Peirce, PhD; Marybeth Pule, RN; and Lauren Sauer, MS. In addition to their hands-on assistance, the team brought much-needed supplies and medicines to the island.
On St. John, the team set up a clinic in a new facility after the island's only clinic was destroyed. The team treated an average of 25 patients a day and worked to identify, stabilize, and transfer patients in need of more intensive treatment to the island of St. Thomas. The most common health concerns were injuries from storm cleanup, deteriorating chronic medical conditions due to lack of medication, and mental health issues.
Greenberg says, "I performed minor surgery, including incisions and drainage of infections and wounds, managed chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, performed school physical exams on kids so they could attend the only remaining school on the island, and recognized and triaged acute psychological decompensation triggered by the events."
In collaboration with an emergency medical technician in Coral Bay, team members provided medical care and mental health outreach and support to people affected by the storm on more remote parts of the island. Mueller visited a school to review medical files of children attending the new school after the hurricane to alert school officials of medical issues and to make vaccination recommendations.
The last of the team members returned to Maryland on Oct. 27, though team leadership continues to travel to the island to provide expertise in redevelopment.
Catlett says she was proud to work with the team. "The Johns Hopkins Go Team is so fortunate to be able to work alongside Bloomberg Philanthropies to help St. John as its citizens continue to rebuild and recuperate after two Category 5 storms," Catlett says. "Our team was able to not only treat dozens of people a day but also help set up a clinic so patients can continue to receive care."
Along with the deployed members of the Go Team, she expressed gratitude for the numerous staff members who came together from across Johns Hopkins Medicine and Johns Hopkins University to help plan, make arrangements, procure supplies and medication, and much more in order for the Go Team mission to take place.
Visit the Go Team mission update web page for additional updates from the team's experience on St. John.
To learn more, see these related stories:
- Johns Hopkins Go Team on the Today Show
- Bringing Calm After the Storm
- Johns Hopkins Nurses Spring Into Action When Disaster Strikes
Go to the CEPAR website for more stories from the Hopkins on Alert newsletter.