‘It’s what we do’: Queens healthcare workers provide support to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Ian

A team of healthcare workers at Jamaica Hospital
The MediSys Health Network, comprising Jamaica and Flushing Hospital Medical Center, deployed a team of six healthcare professionals to Florida for 16 days to provide medical assistance to communities impacted by Hurricane Ian. (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center)

The MediSys Health Network, comprising Jamaica and Flushing Hospital Medical Center, deployed a team of six healthcare professionals to Florida for 16 days to provide medical assistance to communities impacted by Hurricane Ian, which caused catastrophic damage to the southwest coast of the state.

A team of three nurses and three doctors departed on their trip to Englewood, Florida, on Sunday, Oct. 16, and will return to New York City on Monday, Oct. 31. The team members include Lisa Fraumeni-Pickel (assistant nursing director); Laurie Regan (nurse); Janina Rivera (nurse); Sherissa Charles (doctor); Umer Hassan (doctor); and Susan Philipose (doctor).

The group will be operating at a mobile site located near the American Red Cross shelter that is currently housing about 100 people, according to Mark Marino, assistant vice president of emergency management, MediSys Health Network.

According to Marino, the team will provide urgent care and primary care to people in the shelter and the general population in the area, as four out of six hospitals are currently closed.

“These mobile units serve a purpose to replace the emergency room. We also find that in these types of circumstances, when all of your possessions are wiped out, medications are gone, pharmacies are closed and doctors’ offices aren’t opened yet, this is the kind of care we anticipate the team will also be providing,” Marino said.

To support relief and recovery efforts, the MediSys Health Network will serve as part of a hurricane emergency response team coordinated by the International Medical Corps (IMC), an organization dedicated to delivering emergency medical and related services to those affected by conflict, disaster and disease. In the spring of 2020, IMC sent a team of 33 healthcare workers to Jamaica Hospital and Flushing Hospital to provide much-needed assistance, as both hospitals were inundated with critically ill patients during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m anxious to get out there. I love helping others, it’s part of my nature. I’m excited to help in any little way that I can, whether it’s urgent care or ambulatory care, I’m there,” Janina said. 

In 2017, Rivera traveled to Puerto Rico to help residents impacted by Hurricane Maria. She traveled to different towns helping people who were homebound and provided them with medications. 

“Small homes were covered in mud and water. There were a lot of people living together and homeless people bathing in the streets,” Janina said. “It was very sad. I also understand why they’re in need of psychological care. We are there to care for the physical, but other than that, you’re also there to hear them out and provide that shoulder for them and to let them know help is available.” 

For Charles, a family medicine specialist in the hospital’s Ambulatory Care Department, there is a mix of some excitement and nervousness about the trip. According to Charles, her goal is to show compassion and empathy to those in Florida who are rebuilding their lives and homes. 

Two years ago, she worked with the Family Medicine Residency Program on a mission to help people in Guyana and Kenya. 

“It really does make me feel like I am contributing. We go through life and try to find our place in the world and a big part of that for me is helping people,” Charles said. “It makes me feel more connected with the world at large.” 

Fraumeni-Pickel, assistant director of nursing at Jamaica Hospital, said she has always wanted to go on a relief mission trip. 

“I feel honored to be working with such great people and I just want to help everyone,” said Fraumeni-Pickel, who is the team leader of the group.

According to Bruce Flanz, president and CEO of the MediSys Health Network, the hospital’s relief efforts began 30 years ago, when Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, Florida, in 1992. 

“We were the only hospital in New York state to send relief teams to help the people of Homestead, Florida. We reopened the hospital and their ER Department and were on the ground for three weeks,” Flanz said. “It was extraordinarily well received and we learned a lot from that. It became part of what we do.” 

As the busiest Level 1 Trauma Center in New York City, according to Flanz, the hospital has the resources and ability to help those in need in times of a disaster. 

The MediSys Health Network has a long history of providing disaster relief to those in need. Some past efforts include Northern County Ice Storms (Watertown, NY, 1998); 9/11 World Trade Center Attacks (2001); Hurricane Katrina (Louisiana, Mississippi, 2005); Hurricane Sandy (Far Rockaway, 2012); and an earthquake response (Puerto Rico – Guanica, Guayanilla and Ponce, 2020). 

When Hurricane Ian hit Florida, Flanz said they were watching the destruction and began working with the IMC to have a coordinated response to help people in the area. 

“Our hospitals were at the epicenter of the pandemic and our brace healthcare heroes needed help,” Flanz said. “IMC provided that relief and we remain extremely grateful to them for it. Now is our time to give back and help those in need.”