SRH staff pro­vide hur­ri­cane re­lief

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By KATIE WIL­LIS kwillis@star­ Fol­low me on Twit­ter @kwillis_s­tar­dem.

Two Univer­sity of Mary­land Shore Re­gional Health be­hav­ioral health staff mem­bers trav­eled to Texas through the Amer­i­can Red Cross to as­sist in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

EAS­TON — Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane, which first made land­fall along the Texas coast on Aug. 25, and then lin­gered for days, pro­duced large amounts of rain and cat­a­strophic flood­ing to much of south­east Texas into the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber.

Two Univer­sity of Mary­land Shore Re­gional Health be­hav­ioral health staff mem­bers took the needs of those caught in the af­ter­math of the hur­ri­cane to heart and trav­eled to Texas to as­sist in any way they could through the Amer­i­can Red Cross.

Terri Fox of Eas­ton is a be­hav­ioral health re­sponse team clin­i­cian who works at UM Shore Med­i­cal Cen­ter at Eas­ton and Dorch­ester. She is a li­censed grad­u­ate prac­tic­ing coun­selor and has been work­ing with SRH for nearly two years, since 2015.

Tyler Betz of Ber­lin is a clin­i­cal so­cial worker with the UM SRH be­hav­ioral health re­sponse team, work­ing part-time, mostly at UM Shore Med­i­cal Cen­ter at Dorch­ester.

Fox said she re­ceived an email from the Amer­i­can Red Cross say­ing there were men­tal health needs fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey. She ap­plied and was ac­cepted as a vol­un­teer within three days, her only re­quire­ment to take three on­line classes in men­tal health and dis­as­ter re­lief through the Amer­i­can Red Cross be­fore leav­ing.

“(The Red Cross) said they had 52,000 peo­ple ap­ply. Not just for men­tal health, but for the whole Red Cross sys­tem. So many peo­ple wanted to go and help, be­cause that was the first hur­ri­cane, at that point,” Fox said.

She took a week of her own va­ca­tion time to vol­un­teer in Texas, leav­ing Wed­nes­day, Sept. 13, and re­turn­ing Wed­nes­day, Sept. 20.

“I just felt like it was a good op­por­tu­nity for me, and I was lucky enough to be able to go,” Fox said.

Fox said, fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, res­i­dents from Beau­mont, Texas, who lost their homes and their be­long­ings were evac­u­ated to shel­ters in Dal­las. Fox was sta­tioned in Dal­las, work­ing at a mega shel­ter, which housed about 2,300 peo­ple, she said, and a men’s shel­ter.

The mega shel­ter was set up in the park­ing garage of the Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. The park­ing garage in­cluded sev­eral lev­els, with cots on one level, food ser­vice in an­other and other ser vices on other lev­els.

“It was like a bub­ble of a world ... every­one was so will­ing to help,” Fox said.

Fox said many peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced is­sues re­lated to the dis­tance they were shel­tered af­ter be­ing evac­u­ated from their homes, and not know­ing was caus­ing them stress.

“All the peo­ple that were (evac­u­ated to) Dal­las were three to four hours from home, un­like the peo­ple who were in Hous­ton, who were right there, where their houses were,” Fox said. “That was a huge part of the prob­lem for the peo­ple (in Dal­las), is that they had no way of re­ally know­ing or see­ing any­thing that was go­ing on with their houses or get­ting back.”

Many peo­ple also did not have cell­phones they could use to com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily, friends and those who could pro­vide them in­for­ma­tion about their lives back home. Oth­ers were con­cerned about get­ting back to jobs they were forced to put on hold be­cause of evac­u­a­tions, or won­dered whether those jobs still ex­isted for them when they re­turned, Fox said. Oth­ers wanted to check on pre­scrip­tions they needed to stay healthy, and oth­ers needed med­i­cal at­ten­tion be­cause of in­juries sus­tained dur­ing the hur­ri­cane.

“Most of them, they had noth­ing. Some peo­ple that I talked to, it was like their fourth hur­ri­cane,” Fox said.

“You’re just talk­ing, you’re lis­ten­ing to them, you’re giv­ing them a shoul­der to cry on,” Fox said. “You’re not there to do ther­apy. You’re there to just lis­ten and kind of as­sess where they are and what they need ... It wasn’t just men­tal health stuff that you did; it was be­ing there for some­one. That was your only job.”

Fox said while work­ing in the shel­ters, her job was to walk through the shel­ter, vis­ually as­sess­ing those who may be in need of as­sis­tance. Vol­un­teers mostly worked in 12-hour shifts, she said. If some­one was vis­i­bly up­set, Fox said, men­tal health vol­un­teers were there to lis­ten. She said there were about five men­tal health spe­cial­ists work­ing with all the peo­ple stay­ing in the shel­ter.

Fox said one woman she spoke to, who had a 2-week-old baby at the time of the hur­ri­cane, said she and her fam­ily had to be res­cued from their roof as flood­wa­ters rose in the mid­dle of the night. She grabbed her new­born and her daugh­ter, who has autism, but had to leave the fam­ily dog be­hind. In ad­di­tion to the trauma she had ex­pe­ri­enced and the fam­ily’s losses, the woman also was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing post­par­tum de­pres­sion.

An­other older man who couldn’t walk well told Fox he floated on his dryer through flood­wa­ters for two days be­fore be­ing res­cued. He had post-trau­mic stress disor­der from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“He was so afraid to get off the dryer, be­cause there were gi­ant spi­ders and cock­roaches float­ing in the wa­ter and swim­ming,” Fox said. “It gives you an idea of the many things that must have been float­ing in the wa­ter ... He was trau­ma­tized ... He couldn’t talk about it with­out cry­ing and shak­ing and sweat­ing.”

When Fox left the shel­ter on Sept. 20, there still were about 600 peo­ple wait­ing on their towns to tell them they could come home. She said when those calls came, large lux­ury buses would come take peo­ple back to their homes, or what was left.

While work­ing at the mega shel­ter, Fox said, the shel­ter func­tioned like its own city.

“The mega shel­ter was like a city. It was like its own work­ing city,” Fox said. “It had trac­tor-trailors lined up out­side where peo­ple took their showers ... You can’t even imag­ine how many Porta-Pot­tys they had set up. Then they had to come clean all that stuff all the time. But the peo­ple that kept ev­ery­thing to­gether were the Red Cross work­ers.”

Fox said the Sal­va­tion Army helped pro­vide food to those in the shel­ter, and Wal­mart had a phar­macy set up, where pre­scrip­tions were filled for free. She said Wal­mart also had an area set up where peo­ple could get clothes, if needed, as many peo­ple left home in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, with noth­ing but the clothes on their backs.

In ad­di­tion to these re­sources, she said doc­tors were avail­able to see those in need; a clerk of court was set up to help peo­ple ac­quire new ID cards; break­fast, lunch and din­ner were pro­vided ev­ery day, as well as snacks and drinks; gen­eral hy­giene items were do­nated to the sur­vivors of the hur­ri­cane; and the Na­tional Guard was there for se­cu­rity and to help peo­ple load what they had on buses to re­turn home.

“It’s im­por­tant for me to let peo­ple know ex­actly what Red Cross and Wal­mart did for (the sur­vivors). It’s not about what I did or any­thing, be­cause I was so min­i­mal,” Fox said. “The amount of money and time and en­ergy that they all put into it is just phe­nom­e­nal ... I’ll be with Red Cross for the rest of my life,” Fox said.

Betz left on Satur­day, Sept. 2, and re­turned Tues­day, Sept. 12. He said he was sta­tioned at the Wilk­er­son-Greines Ac­tiv­ity Cen­ter in Fort Worth, Texas, also vol­un­teer­ing through the Amer­i­can Red Cross.

Betz said he has vol­un­teered with the or­ga­ni­za­tion for five years as a dis­as­ter men­tal health worker.

In ad­di­tion to the oc­ca­sional de­ploy­ment, Betz re­sponds to lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers af­fected by tragedy. He said most of those calls are for house fire vic­tims, and he helps out, when needed, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. He also works full-time as a clin­i­cal so­cial worker with the Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs.

“Any per­son, re­gard­less of pro­fes­sional skill set, can go help dur­ing tragedies with the Red Cross,” Betz said.

Betz said about 200 peo­ple were shel­tered from Port Arthur, Texas, air and boat evac­u­a­tions and res­cues at the Fort Worth ac­tiv­ity cen­ter. He said his job was to sup­port evac­uees and vol­un­teers with men­tal health needs, of­ten dis­cussing the loss of sur­vivors’ homes, the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing evac­u­ated and help­ing to at­tach those who needed them with re­sources.

He said vol­un­teers of­ten had is­sues deal­ing with sec­ondary trauma, deal­ing with trauma vic­tims and be­ing away from home.

He said his most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence was wit­ness­ing the best in hu­man­ity.

“These peo­ple were dis­traught, up­set and trau­ma­tized, and you have folks that come from the com­mu­nity and wrap around these folks, and lift them up,” Betz said. “It was peo­ple tak­ing time out of their own life to sup­port these folks who are in need”

Joe Miletti, Amer­i­can Red Cross’ re­gional vol­un­teer ser­vices of­fi­cer, said vol­un­teers are vi­tal to the role the Red Cross plays fol­low­ing a dis­as­ter.

“Be­ing af­fected by a dis­as­ter on any level is trau­matic, and peo­ple have var­i­ous lev­els of re­siliency or cop­ing skills,” Miletti said. “And needs are fluid, but we use vol­un­teers that are health pro­fes­sion­als, spir­i­tual care work­ers, shel­ter work­ers, lo­gis­ti­cians and more.”

Lenore Koors, Amer­i­can Red Cross’ re­gional com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer, said do­na­tions are key to help­ing sur­vivors of tragedies.

“Although there has been a re­cent uptick in large dis­as­ters, the gen­eros­ity of donors has been phe­nom­e­nal and pro­vides the re­sources to train and de­ploy vol­un­teers and main­tain our fleet of emer­gency re­sponse ve­hi­cles to meet lo­cal and na­tional dis­as­ter re­sponse and re­cov­ery ef­forts,” Koors said.

She said do­na­tions re­ceived through­out the year des­ig­nated for “Dis­as­ter Ser­vices” are used to pre-po­si­tion sup­plies, vol­un­teers and other re­sources so the Red Cross is on the ground 24 to 48 hours in ad­vance of ma­jor and known dis­as­ters, such as hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria.

“Once the dis­as­ter hits, do­na­tions des­ig­nated specif­i­cally for Har­vey, Irma, Maria and West Coast wild­fires pro­vide the re­sources to main­tain on­go­ing re­sponse and re­cov­ery — in­clud­ing case work — shel­ter­ing and feed­ing,” Koors said.

She said un­des­ig­nated do­na­tions are used “to meet the pre­pared­ness, re­sponse and re­cov­ery needs within lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties so we can re­spond to house fires and other lo­cal and smaller-scale dis­as­ters.”


A sur­vivor of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey is pic­tured sur­rounded by all that he owns in the blue bags that were given to him by the Amer­i­can Red Cross and Wal­mart.


Tyler Betz of Ber­lin was sta­tioned at the Wilk­er­son-Greines Ac­tiv­ity Cen­ter in Fort Worth, Texas, vol­un­teer­ing through the Amer­i­can Red Cross fol­low­ing the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.


Terri Fox of Eas­ton is a be­hav­ioral health re­sponse team clin­i­cian who works at Univer­sity of Mary­land Shore Med­i­cal Cen­ter at Eas­ton and Dorch­ester. She trav­eled to Dal­las, Texas, in Septem­ber to as­sist the sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

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