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Caring through the crisis

Published: October 16, 2017 By: Dee Russell
Around 60 patients and 125 of their relatives stayed at the Oceanway Middle School special-needs shelter during Hurricane Irma. View Larger Image

UF Health employees helped staff a special-needs shelter during Hurricane Irma.

With the flick of a switch, light floods a room. With the push of a button, cool air provides relief from Florida’s stifling humidity. For most of us, electricity and air conditioning are modern conveniences that have become necessities. For those with medical needs, they can be the difference between life and death.

“It’s an issue for many people in our area and it’s why we are always ready to answer the call,” said Tawana Brown, nursing coordinator for the UF Health Jacksonville Emergency Department.

Special-needs shelters are open for people who depend on electricity to power medical equipment during the time of disaster. They are also available to those with health conditions that require constant monitoring.

Ahead of Hurricane Irma, the city opened an additional special-needs shelter at Oceanway Middle School in North Jacksonville Saturday, Sept. 9, after the Legends Community Center reached full capacity. As the first bands of rain blew over our area, more than 30 UF Health Jacksonville physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists filled the school’s cafeteria prepared to ride out the storm.

“There were people there who were on oxygen tanks, bedridden or recovering from strokes,” Brown said. “Each one of them were extremely appreciative to have a safe place where the power was secure.”

Around 60 patients and 125 of their relatives stayed at the shelter during Hurricane Irma. The youngest person requiring care was 18 and the oldest was 95, but more than half of those with medical needs were 50 or older.

“We helped switch out oxygen tanks and provided first aid when it was needed,” Brown said. “Several people came without their home health nurse, so we did what they normally would.”

Oceanway Middle School remained open through Tuesday, Sept. 12. Several nurses even waited three hours after closing that evening to ensure the remaining patients were safely transported to the Legends Community Center.

“We enjoyed contributing,” said Jeffery House, DO, a UF Health internist and program director of the Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “I was really excited to see so many residents who wanted to volunteer, knowing they were also going to have to relieve people at the hospital in the next few days.”

During their time at the shelter, cell phone service was inconsistent and staff received little news about storm damage. Many didn’t know what happened to their own homes, but their top priority was always the patients and families who needed them.

“I think there was a real sense of selflessness for those helping at the shelter,” House said. “There was a real ‘this is why I do this job’ feeling.”

Rain or shine, it’s a mission they continue to fulfill at UF Health for everyone in our community.

Around 60 patients and 125 of their relatives stayed at the Oceanway Middle School special-needs shelter during Hurricane Irma.

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