While many of us sat watching television coverage of the flooding in Houston – feeling helpless – JoEllen “Jody” Weilnau, a pharmacy clinical coordinator – was mobilized, on the ground in Houston and helping with triage.
Since 2009, Jody has been a member of a disaster medical assistance team (DMAT) as part of the National Disaster Medical System, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On Aug. 26, Jody received a call at 1 a.m. that her entire DMAT – Ohio-1, would be deployed to Houston in wake of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that made upwards of 30,000 residents evacuate their homes.
“Knowing that few of my Akron Children’s co-workers would be awake in the wee hours of the morning, I sent a mass email letting everyone at work know I was deployed – with a copy of my orders,” she said.
Jody works in the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, working alongside physicians to help patients with chemotherapy dosing and supportive care measures, such as nutrition. She also works closely with the Children’s Oncology Group on investigational treatments.
When she learned of the National Disaster Medical System, she wanted to be involved.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity,” said Jody, “good for the profession of pharmacy, a good way to serve my country and help those in need.”
Being on a DMAT involves a commitment to training. Sometimes team members are simply on standby during high-profile events like political conventions or the presidential inauguration, and, of course, they are always ready for all types of natural disasters.
“While the training is invaluable, every deployment and every mission is different,” said Jody. “Conditions can be austere and conditions can be challenging. In natural disasters, you will most likely need to be creative with your resources.”
In Houston, the Ohio-1 DMAT worked with a team from Utah to set up triage tents to assess people as they arrived from their homes, nursing homes and other places. They may have arrived by car, ambulance, helicopter or other means.
Jody said to picture a giant military tent (think of the television show M*A*S*H) with her fellow pharmacists working alongside doctors, nurses, surgeons and other health care providers.
Jody’s role was to assess people who evacuated without some or all of their medications.
One diabetic man she helped had been without insulin for several days and also had infected wounds from the ordeal of his evacuation.
During the 14 days she was in Houston, Jody learned to be grateful for sleep and meals as they became available. Traveling with a pillow and sleeping bag, she was prepared to sleep on a cot, the floor of a tent or even a bench constructed out of supply totes in the pharmacy.
Meals included meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) and snacks offered by military personnel.
On Sept. 9, she was glad to return to her husband, the comforts of her Berea home and her colleagues and patients in the Showers Center.
But the experience reinforced for her the value of training and disaster planning – whether at the level of an individual hospital or the federal government.
“Training keeps your skills sharp,” she said. “And while you may never be able to simulate the exact scenario you may one day face, you will arrive on the scene relaxed, confident and ready for ‘go time.’”