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Up and Running in 48 Hours: How Federal Medical Stations Help People After Natural Disasters Like Hurricane Sandy

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About Federal Medical Stations

Twenty-four hours. That is how long it took CDC’s Division of Strategic National Stockpile (DSNS) to unpack and set up a 40,000-square-foot federal medical station (FMS) in the Middlesex College gymnasium in Edison, New Jersey (pictured above), capable of caring for up to 250 people displaced by Hurricane Sandy and in need of non-acute (non-emergency) medical care. (This was one of seven FMSs deployed to the region after the hurricane, all of which required a swift yet coordinated effort between CDC’s DSNS and the Health and Human Services Secretary’s Operations Center in Washington, D.C.)

Somewhere between a temporary shelter and temporary hospital, a FMS is a non-emergency medical center set up during a natural disaster to care for people with special health needs, including those with chronic health conditions (e.g. respiratory illnesses and diabetes), limited mobility, and common mental health issues. Although FMSs are typically up and running within 48 hours, their length of service is more open ended. FMSs remain operational for as long as they are needed by the state. The Middlesex College FMS opened on November 3 and discharged its last person 11 days later.

On the Ground in Edison, New Jersey

CAPT Michael Toedt, MD, who led the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) of 79 individuals overseeing the Middlesex College FMS, said the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is as impressive as what he witnessed during recovery efforts for Hurricanes Irene and Katrina. “Just like in those super storms, we’re seeing individuals who’ve lost everything and we’re seeing large-scale damage.”

Though amid all this devastation, CAPT Toedt talked about the inspiring people he met during his deployment to Edison. “I met a 96-year-old man who mowed his lawn up until the day Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. He said resiliency was his secret to living to 96 and that he wasn’t going to let anything get him down.” CAPT Toedt added, “And I’m not even sure he has a home to go back to.”

Caring for Physical and Mental Health

For many people who have lost possessions, a home, or both during a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the stress can be overwhelming. At the Middlesex College FMS, a mental health team worked with the RDF to reestablish people with their medications, counsel individuals and their caregivers, and monitor the stress levels of staff who work in two-week rotations. It is a well-coordinated healthcare delivery plan that focuses on peoples’ physical and emotional needs during emergencies like natural disasters and involves a team of physicians, nurses, dieticians, food safety officers, and veterinarians.

Right to left: LCDR Jena Vedder, RN, psychiatric nurse; CAPT Michael Toedt, MD, team commander; and CAPT Daniel Shine, MD, psychiatrist, at the Middlesex College FMS in Edison, New Jersey

“The whole response effort was a very rewarding experience, down to discharging our last patient,” said CAPT Toedt. “He was an elderly man sitting alone in a wheelchair waiting for his nephew to pick him up. When he finally arrived after a long trip, the nephew ran across the gymnasium floor to give the man a hug.”

 To learn more about how CDC supports America during emergencies, visit the CDC 24/7 webpage and the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response webpage.

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5 comments on “Up and Running in 48 Hours: How Federal Medical Stations Help People After Natural Disasters Like Hurricane Sandy”

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    Great response time and capacity. Was the site pre-identified in any plan? How many patients did the facility actually handle? Were any local staff used, or all federal?

    Thanks for your questions. To answer a few, yes, the site was predetermined as part of the county’s emergency plan. Staff included federal medical staff and volunteers from the school’s nursing and radiology programs.

    Thank you for being there. You are doing God’s work. How do you coordinate (or complement) your efforts with those of American Red Cross?

    Thanks for your comment. During a major public health emergency, when CDC activates our emergency operations center, a liaison from the American Red Cross joins the staff supporting the response to ensure communication and collaboration. One area where CDC and the ARC work closely is disaster mental health and making sure survivors receive the care and attention they need for mental and behavioral issues.

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