Northwell Health employees return to the states after providing medical assistance to Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico

Northwell Puerto Rico Team
Photos courtesy of Northwell Health

After being deployed to Puerto Rico for 15 days, Northwell Health employees returned to New York late on Thursday.

A team of 27 nurses, physicians, medics, EMTs and other clinicians and administrators went down to Puerto Rico on Oct. 12 to provide medical assistance to those who were affected by the hurricane.

While they were initially unsure of what their destination was, once they landed in Puerto Rico they were able to assess areas of need. The Northwell Health team was then taken 45 minutes south of San Juan to HIMA Hospital San Pablo in Caguas, where they treated emergency room patients that brought to their Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) tents.

“Their patient census was well over what the hospital was built for,” said Randy Howard, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who is vice president of operations at Huntington Hospital. He served as team leader in Puerto Rico. “They had hundreds of extra patients both in the emergency department and inpatient units. They needed some relief. In collaboration with eight volunteers from Albany Medical Center, we picked up the mission and provided 24-7 care for those patients and to assist that hospital.”

When they arrived, the team found that even though Hurricane Maria occurred three weeks ago, the area they were in lacked power, running water and barely passable roads. While the hospital ran on generators and volunteers slept in tents outside the facility, the team provided top flight care and dealt with locals struggling to manage chronic health issues. The team also provided assistance to patients out in the field and worked closely with the Army National Guard.

“Puerto Rico looked like it had been through a forest fire,” said Nicolas Hernandez, MD, who practices family medicine at Plainview Hospital. “If you’ve ever been there – a lot of green everywhere – all those trees were stripped bare. It was sad. I was there as recently as July for my birthday. It was a very different place.”

The mission became personal for some members of the team. Eddie Reyes, a Northwell Health RN and EMT lead instructor who grew up in Puerto Rico, found that his cousin, Hector, had suffered an aneurysm immediately after the storm and was recovering in the neurology unit at HIMA Hospital. Several days into the deployment, Hector’s mother showed up at the hospital with a cardiac issue.

“This hit home as soon as we hit the ground,” said Reyes. “The nurses took care of her in our tent. You guys did a helluva job.”