VA Western New York Healthcare System
Hurricane Maria Relief Effort Brings VA Volunteers
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s great destructive path in Puerto Rico in mid-September, 2017, several VA Western New York Healthcare System (VA WNYHS) staff members stepped forward to volunteer their time, energy, and compassion to help others in great need. The devastating hurricane directly killed almost 100 people and indirectly, as many as 500 people have reportedly died as power shortages continue to effect and disrupt Puerto Rican life.
Answering a National call for disaster relief assistance organized by Federal Emergency Management Agency, six Veterans Affairs employees from VA WNYHS began their deployment cycles in mid-October. VA WNYHS employees who volunteered were Russell Appleby, Alicia Sholtz, Teresa Namenek, Joan Chipps, Susan Dunz and Wess Spencer.
VA pharmacist, Russell Appleby was the first to be deployed from Buffalo and worked at the VA hospital in San Juan and shared, “having the opportunity to help was a great experience.”
Teresa Namenek, RN, thought the time spent in Puerto Rico was transformational. The effort “validated my desire to serve those in need,” said Teresa and “everyone we met was thankful and appreciative of us being there for them.”
Her cohort included Social Workers Joan Chipps and Alicia Sholtz, who worked 14-18 hours per day at a make shift Field Medical Station inside a basketball arena in Manati, an area a bit southwest from San Juan. They evaluated and treated about 200 patients each day. Susan Dunz, Nurse Practitioner, said conditions were rough but “we quickly learned to practice disaster medicine, due to water and sewage inconsistencies and debris from the storm.”
Lastly, Dunz added that “the full hearted care VA employees provided to these patients, families and each other was amazing. Manati, Puerto Rico, will forever be in my heart.”