The U.S. Public Health Service has begun its third week assisting with Hurricane Sandy relief in New York City. Rapid Deployment Force 1 (RDF-1) assumed command of the medical special needs shelter at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center late yesterday afternoon from RDF-2. RDF-2 arrived in New York City on Oct. 31 and immediately set up a medical shelter at York College in Queens. Within two days they were moved to Brookdale Hospital to establish a new shelter.
Captain Dan Beck, director of the USPHS Commissioned Corps Readiness and Response Program, discussed the Public Health Service's response to Hurricane Sandy in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon. The Public Health Service is currently operating two medical special needs shelters, one in Edison, N.J., and the one at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn. The shelters are for storm evacuees with medical needs that cannot be met at a standard shelter. The Brookdale shelter has about 100 evacuees from nursing homes that were in the path of the hurricane.
The U.S. Public Health Service has five Rapid Deployment Forces, Beck said. RDF-3 is at the New Jersey shelter. RDF-2 has just completed its two week deployment in Brooklyn and its role has been assumed by RDF-1. Both shelters have received assistance from other USPHS teams , such as mental health teams and services access teams. Of the 41 total teams in the response program, including the five RDF teams, 14 (three RDFs) have had some or all of their members deployed to this emergency.
Captain Beck noted that the hurricane has required the deployment of a significant portion of the Public Health Service's RDF personnel and assets. RDF-4 and RDF-5 are being held in reserve, in the event of another disaster. If New York or New Jersey need the USPHS to continue to operate either shelter, "tiger teams" of qualified PHS officers currently on other assignments will be used.
The shelter at Brookdale has had a fairly steady patient population of around 100 since it opened, according to Beck. The majority of the patients are from skilled nursing homes and cannot be discharged to a regular shelter. Some of the LPNs and nursing aides from the homes that were evacuated accompanied their patients and are working alongside the Public Health staff in the shelter, which comprises the sixth and 11th floors of the hospital.
The U.S. Public Health Service has deployed rapid deployment force teams for many recent hurricanes. RDF-3 was stationed in Connecticut after Hurricane Irene. RDF's also were used with Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Katrina. The role of an RDF in a disaster response, as Captain Beck described it, is to set up and operate a medical special needs shelter, using the cache of supplies from a Federal Medical Station. Patients in such shelters can be nursing home patients, or evacuees who have medical needs such as diabetics or those on home oxygen.
The U.S. Public Health Service is one of seven uniformed services in the United States government. Those consist of the four branches of the military, the Coast Guard, the uniformed members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service. The 6,500 members of the commissioned corps of the USPHS are all officers, and the corps uses the ranks of the U.S. Navy. The corps consists of medical professionals in fifteen different areas, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. Their normal assignments include work in the Bureau of Prisons, the Indian Health Service, the National Institutes of Health and other venues where the medical needs of disadvantaged citizens can be met.