Most of us affiliated with the UA College of Pharmacy learned about the devastation of hurricane and superstorm Sandy through television, radio and social media. A few of us living on the East Coast experienced firsthand the anxieties and losses caused by evacuating homes, flood damage, power outages and business disruptions. But just one of our number traveled from San Diego to Long Island to spend a full fortnight up to his elbows in relief efforts as part of the National Disaster Medical System's response to this massive and extended emergency.
Ken Rogers is a graduate from the Class of 1995 and a 12-year DMAT - disaster medical assistance team - member. His first deployment was to the World Trade Center following Sept. 11, 2001; this was his fifth hurricane deployment.
"This was the largest DMAT operation since Hurricane Katrina," Rogers says. "Nearly two-thirds of all the DMATs in the system were involved in this response."
DMAT CA-4 San Diego, activated on Oct. 30, was the first team to arrive at a shelter set up on the campus of Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., to serve nearly 1,000 homeless evacuees.
"We arrived with a 46-person medical team that included three pharmacists and one pharmacy technician," Rogers says. "Our daily census was more than 800 people in the general population and 80 to 90 special-needs patients who were displaced from long-term care facilities.
"We learned - and experienced - that our site was the busiest of all the DMAT operations to result from Hurricane Sandy."
Rogers estimates that 40 to 60 percent of all the patient encounters had a pharmacy component, with the majority involving refill requests for maintenance medications.
There were plenty of challenges to overcome, Rogers says. The overcrowding and patient frustration reminded him somewhat of conditions in New Orleans following Katrina. The site's physical set-up, with the pharmacy located more than 150 yards from the busiest clinical facility, made collecting and dispensing prescriptions more difficult than in some past situations.
And then there was that second big weather event.
"The nor'easter hit Long Island in the middle of our deployment. It deposited eight inches of snow and brought more high winds and rain. Despite these formidable weather obstacles, our 24/7 medical and pharmacy operations continued without any interruption."
Rogers' deployment to New York ended Nov. 12 with the arrival of a team from South Carolina. He returned home to California and resumed his duties at Walgreens -- until the next big emergency situation, we suspect.
Those of us here at the College of Pharmacy in sunny and mild Tucson are very proud to know one of our graduates played an important role in helping alumni and friends in the East during this most difficult time. We sincerely thank Ken Rogers for sharing his observations and photos with us.