Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams, working alongside local community groups, are providing medical and mental health care to Hurricane Sandy-affected communities in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, as well as Hoboken, New Jersey. The vast majority of the patients treated by MSF in the shelters and underserved communities have been elderly, homeless, or physically or mentally impaired.
A team of two doctors, nurse-practitioner, mental health specialist, nurse, and logistical-support staff have established a temporary clinic in a community room in a housing complex in the Arverne neighbourhood of Rockaway, Queens. The medical team has treated 50 patients, most suffering from pre-existing conditions like hypertension, asthma and congestive heart failure. In the clinic, there have been routine prenatal consultations for several pregnant women.
The team has also been going door-to-door in high-rise apartments, alongside volunteers from various community groups, to conduct medical consultations with residents who have been without electricity since 29 October, and who have had limited access to heat and water. The community groups, through volunteers, are carrying water and other supplies to residents of the buildings, including a 22-story apartment building.
Many of the residents visited are suffering some form of paraplegia, obesity or dementia, and have not been able to seek outside assistance since the hurricane hit. Several elderly patients have also received care by home visits.
At the evacuation centre located at FDR High School in Brooklyn, where 866 people have sought shelter, MSF has ensured consistent 24-hour medical care and coordination with physicians and registered nurses since 1 November. The medical team has tended to 247 people, the majority of whom are suffering from upper respiratory tract infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, or psychological trauma. MSF is helping patients to secure refills for various prescription medications. The team has referred 10 patients to local hospitals for emergency care and transported several wheelchair-bound people to their homes.
Since assessing the evacuation centre at Susan E. Wagner High School on 2 November, MSF medical and mental health teams have been providing support to the onsite response team, which has worked tirelessly since the hurricane to tend to the needs of their patients. The shelter houses approximately 385 people, with one-third of the population being under the age of 18.
At the shelter, MSF has provided a prescribing physician and organised a medicines procurement system with a local pharmacy that has been donating medical material and prescription medicines for evacuees. As a result, approximately a dozen individuals who have lost access to their prescription medicines for hypertension and other chronic conditions have received medication. MSF has also donated blood-sugar rapid diagnostic testing kits for diabetic patients and nebulizers and medications for patients suffering from chronic respiratory conditions.
A two-person mental health team has provided therapy to several people exhibiting signs of mental trauma in the shelter. The team has also set up a recovery room for first-responders suffering from exhaustion after working multiple shifts without relief. The team has also conducted a training session for social workers and psychologists from Wagner High School to take on mental health services for people living in the shelter.
Hoboken, New Jersey
On Saturday, 3 November, MSF dispatched a doctor, nurse, and mental health specialist to Hoboken to assess medical and psychosocial care needs in the city. The team has been providing the only medical care in three shelters: Wallace public school, St Matthew’s church, and Saint Peter and Paul. The team has also assessed several nursing homes in the area. Since Saturday, the team has conducted 60 medical consultations and 87 mental health counseling sessions. MSF has arranged for prescriptions to be refilled for 48 patients.
The majority of the patients, as in other locations where MSF is working, are suffering from chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Most of the patients are elderly and many are suffering from pre-existing mental illnesses that have only been exacerbated by the trauma associated with the hurricane.