It was pretty much basic medical care, getting people access to their long-term medications. We didn’t have to deal a lot with the acute injuries that you think of with a disaster. Like you’d think you’d have a lot of broken legs, things like that. We had a few skin infections, things like that, but for the most part, it was people that had heart failure or things like that that we took care of and gave access to care for.
DTH: And so what did you learn from the experience?
JK: One thing I took away was that I think it would have been a very different response if this had happened on the mainland in the United States. They are so community-driven that before the storm hit, they knew whose house was sturdiest so they all went over to that house. My experience in Houston was very different than that. In Houston, we actually set up at the big shelter that was housing everybody. Most of the hospitals were quasi-running so we would just send like the really sick people there, but it was just a lot of psych stuff because people were really stressed out and depressed. We had a lot of drug overdoses because people, they’re addicted, they go without supply for a while and then when they start getting their supply back in, they get addicted like that.
DTH: So how will you use your experience in future crises?
JK: Well, I think us breaking up into small groups and going up into the rural areas that don’t have access to the medical centers was actually a very different thing from what we normally do. What we normally do, and what we’re trained to do, is set up like ERs, pretty much, emergency rooms. We would either build our own, we have all the supplies to do that, or we would augment what already exists, so just give them the supplies they need, the manpower. So this was one of the first times that they broke the teams down into what we call these health medical task forces. I think that’s going to be a model that they move towards more.
DTH: What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of the job?
JK: The most challenging part is just having to up and leave your life for 2-4 weeks at a time and not having much notice and just getting prepared for that and mentally ready. And then being away from family and responsibilities here and feeling like other people are picking up the pieces when you can’t be there. And then the most rewarding part is just the response we get from the communities. They’re so happy to have us there. In Puerto Rico, the very last night, one of the big restaurants shut down and they had us come and eat for free. And people showed up in droves to our clinic. So just knowing that they needed us and that we could help was rewarding.