Hurricane Relief—NAO Responds Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) are an important part of the Title VII safety net of well- trained health professionals who choose to practice in underserved areas. In response to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the National AHEC Organization (NAO) and individual AHECs have sprung into action to try and help those areas of the country ravaged by the storm. Because they are an essential part of the safety net, and have such close connections to other health groups and centers, AHECs were able to immediately become part of the relief effort. Even as much of the infrastructure failed, AHECs across the country were able to become immediately involved in relief activities. These activities fall into several categories: Gathering Donations and Supplies: The Southeastern Louisiana AHEC, which was located in the New Orleans area, served as the first point of contact for the offloading of planeloads of medical supplies into the city of New Orleans on the night that the levees broke and the flooding began. The AHEC was able to handle the offloading of supplies even when the Office of Emergency Preparedness could not due to the ineffective communications infrastructure. The Southeastern LA AHEC also coordinated the delivery of an 18-wheel truck from the Coca-Cola bottling plant in McComb, MS to offload critically needed water in Bogalusa, Washington Parish, Louisiana. They were able to coordinate the delivery of this water even though an estimated one million trees had been blown down in the Washington Parish area and so all electricity and telephone service was out. Washington Parish’s only form of communication was a plea delivered through talk radio. The Southeastern Louisiana AHEC heard this plea and responded by delivering water. Throughout the crisis, the Southeastern LA AHEC provided a direct response to damages sustained by rural health clinics, community health clinics, and small rural hospitals. All of this work was possible because the AHEC was on the ground and had long established relationships with the state office of rural health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Many other AHECs have gathered donations (material and monetary) and taken those donations to distribution centers. For instance, the Piney Woods AHEC (in Nacogdoches, Texas) contacted local organizations and businesses to collect supplies for the evacuees in that area. The Central Louisiana AHEC, which was not directly hit by the hurricane, has set up an account to help the Red Cross buy needed supplies. The North Louisiana AHEC delivered diapers, formula, clothes, water, food, bedding, towels, toiletries, medical supplies and medical equipment to more than 20 area urban and rural shelters throughout north Louisiana. North Louisiana AHEC also coordinated with the National Healthy Start Association to accept supplies and donations from Healthy Start projects around the country to meet the special needs of pregnant women, new mothers and babies. North Louisiana AHEC also coordinated the distribution of supplies and resources from Arizona, Oregon, South Carolina, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas AHECs. Other donations and supplies from agencies and individuals associated with the AHEC network came from Colorado, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, Missouri, Maine, Virginia, Louisiana and Utah. The Northwest Oklahoma AHEC collected more than 60,000 pounds of food, water, clothing, bedding and household items from Enid OK residents and trucked them to North Louisiana AHEC for distribution to area shelters and agencies. These supplies were timely as they arrived less than 48 hours prior to Hurricane Rita hitting the southwest coast of Louisiana and provided a needed boost to dwindling supplies in the north Louisiana area. Working in coordination with federal, state and local relief efforts, East Texas AHEC volunteered time and efforts in municipal and faith-based shelters by manning clinics, sorting and distributing clothing, preparing/serving meals, and providing one-on-one assistance to help evacuees complete applications for FEMA and Red Cross assistance. Information was also provided on housing, transportation, employment, and school enrollment. Assisting Displaced Students and Staff: AHECs, for which an important part of their mission is training health professions students through the provision of clinical rotations, has worked hard to place students from medical and allied health professions schools in the Gulf Coast in clinical rotations across the country. The placement of these students across the country would not have been possible without the existence of the National AHEC network. The continuation of these clinical rotations is important in order to ensure that the students’ training would not be interrupted, especially since health professions will be an important part of rebuilding the Gulf Coast’s economy. For example, the Coastal Texas AHEC (located in Galveston), and the Capital AHEC (located in Austin, Texas) identified and began recruiting expanded training sites for pediatric rotations for students from Tulane and Louisiana State University. Schools and AHECs as far away from the Gulf Coast as Indiana have offered space for nursing students and faculty in their clinical programs. Many of these AHECs are helping the displaced students to get local housing as well as clinical rotations. Much of the same help has been given to displaced staff. The Lake Country AHEC (Tyler, Texas) has helped Louisiana nurses get their Texas licenses so that they can practice in that state. The Central Louisiana AHEC has used its already existing job posting website to encourage displaced nurses to apply for jobs elsewhere in the state. MedJob Louisiana, a collaboration which includes all four Louisiana AHECs and other partners, expanded its free recruitment and retention services to include all Louisiana health care facilities, disciplines and specialties in an effort to retain as many Louisiana health care workers in the state as possible. More than 23 AHECs and AHEC Program Offices contacted North Louisiana AHEC with offers of more than 360 clinical rotations placement sites, housing and expenses for health professional students of all disciplines. North Louisiana AHEC developed a database detailing the sites and availability and distributed the information to placement coordinators at Tulane University and LSUHSC-New Orleans, and other health professional schools located in the affected regions. The East Texas AHEC Program office, working through the University of Texas Medical Branch – Galveston, collaborated with FEMA, the Port of Galveston and other local entities on providing disaster relief for the evacuees by offering education assistance and housing for displaced medical and nursing students, obtaining evacuee housing, and setting up and staffing a 24/7 Relief Call Center at UTMB to provide relief information and referrals. Caring for Evacuees at Home: AHEC personnel have worked in coordination with the Red Cross to volunteer at shelters across the country. The Central Louisiana AHEC is working as volunteers for the Red Cross to provide food, clothes, and phone assistance to people in the shelters. They have also been working to reunite families separated by the storm and to transport medical supplies to those shelters with the most critically ill patients. The North Louisiana AHEC physician recruiter, an RN, worked with Louisiana State University Health Science Center-Shreveport (LSU) physicians to provide medical care to evacuees at the LSU Baton Rouge Campus. Other North Louisiana AHEC staff volunteered in area shelters and on resource hotlines, as well as provided case management services in collaboration with other agencies in local shelters. North Louisiana AHEC also assisted area health professionals with the coordination of health professional volunteers in area shelters. The West Virginia AHEC has dispatched public health nurses and health profession students to the local evacuation center. These nurses and students are helping with everything from finding the evacuees’ families to treating rashes. The WV AHEC has reported that many of the evacuees had not seen a doctor in several years, and there were many separated families because men often let their wives and children evacuate first, promising to follow them later. Staff members at the Brazos AHEC (Waco, Texas) are being trained to enroll the evacuees in Medicaid and Medicare. They are also providing counseling and dental presentations to the evacuees and their children. The Galveston Texas AHEC is in the unique position of having two instant communities set up immediately adjacent to its office. These communities, composed of about 500 evacuees living on cruise ships, are in need of health care support, and the Galveston AHEC is identifying strategies to support this. Traveling to the Gulf Coast to Care for Patients there: Several AHECs have staff traveling to the Gulf Coast to participate in the volunteer rebuilding efforts. For instance, the University of Maryland’s AHEC is partnering with the School of Nursing in order to send two Wellmobiles, staffed by four nurse practitioners, four registered nurses, two drivers and two support people to the Red Cross headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama. Florida’s AHECs at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University have sent 7 faculty and student teams consisting of over 80 physicians, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and mental health specialists to Mississippi where they have provided approximately 6,000 patient visits in the communities of Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Long Beach, Waveland, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian. This was done in collaboration with organizations such as Bethal Lutheran Church, D’Iberville Clinic, Assembly of God Church, Coast Episcopal School, MS Department of Health, MS Licensing Boards, American Red Cross, First Baptist, Episcopal and Lutheran Churches Disaster Conventions, and Feed the Children. Many other AHECs are raising money to support staff members who decide to volunteer in the Gulf Coast individually. How can you help? 9-30-05 - Cameron Parish, LA has requested cots, bedding, food, disposable dental supplies, and water. This is the area where Hurricane Rita came ashore on Sept. 23. If you can help, send an email to Bootsie Durand, SW LA AHEC, firstname.lastname@example.org. Bootsie will route supplies to the area that is in most need. Has your AHEC office contributed to the relief efforts for hurricanes? If so, we’d like to hear from you and post this information on the NAO website. Please email to email@example.com with Hurricane Efforts in the subject line.
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