Jennifer Rabalais, a registered nurse and the infection prevention coordinator at North Hawaii Community Hospital, has returned from a 10-day deployment with the Hawaii Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) to assist in relief efforts related to Superstorm Sandy.
Hawaii DMAT is a trained corps of 75 medical professionals who respond to calls for medical surge, disaster and humanitarian assistance throughout the United States and the Pacific Region and provide on-scene, high-acuity casualty care services within two-to-four hours of a request. Hawaii DMAT is part of HAH Emergency Services, a division of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which provides emergency preparedness and operations management services to more than 115 health care coalition members throughout the state of Hawaii, including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home care and hospice, air and ground ambulance, blood banks and clinical laboratories.
Rabalais and 24 fellow Hawaii DMAT members were deployed to New York on Nov. 12, in conjunction with another response team from Alaska, to help medical shelter areas consolidate and relieve exhausted federally deployed disaster workers. The Hawaii-Alaska Team split into three medical response task force teams assigned to different facilities throughout the region.
“I was assigned to a shelter called Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, that housed nearly 600 people following the storm, but was down to around 150 when we arrived,” said Rabalais. “The remaining occupants had been residents of an assisted-living facility that was destroyed by flood waters. We provided acute medical care for shelter occupants and volunteers who had developed illnesses or injuries, in addition to overseeing the closure of the facility, as the last occupants were transferred to a more permanent situation while their facility was to be rebuilt.”
“I was touched by the many volunteer musicians who performed for the shelter occupants daily,” says Rabalais. “One of these performers was a young man in his 20s, who took the trouble to learn songs that were popular among the residents’ age group … he had quite a repertoire and gladly took requests. On the day everyone was moving out, tensions and apprehension were in the air; this young man and two others played music for over six solid hours, creating a calming and pleasant atmosphere for what was a trying day.”
Rabalais has also deployed with Hawaii DMAT to Guam to provide relief after a hurricane hit Saipan, as well as staffed an Acute Care Module in Kapiolani Park on Oahu during the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) last November. “NHCH is incredibly proud of the service Jennifer provides as a member of the Hawaii DMAT team,” said Lorrie Mortensen, NHCH vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “Jennifer’s expertise and commitment to emergency preparedness is a wonderful asset to our patients, hospital, community and country.”
“I am extremely privileged to work with Hawaii DMAT,” said Rabalais. “It is some of the hardest work I have ever done, but it is very rewarding. My Hawaii DMAT teammates are an incredible and talented group of people. I am very grateful NHCH has been understanding and supportive of my work with DMAT, making it possible for me to continue to participate in relief work such as this. ” Jennifer has been NHCH’s Infection Prevention Coordinator since 2005 and is one of approximately 5,000 practitioners worldwide who are certified in Infection Control by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology Inc.
As NHCH’s Infection Prevention Coordinator, Rabalais is responsible for providing infection control orientation for hospital staff, identifying and assessing the educational needs of hospital staff and providing leadership and consultation to staff in order to monitor infection control procedures in accordance with hospital policies. Jennifer is also responsible for identifying the occurrence of outbreaks or clusters of infectious diseases and monitoring nosocomial infections and antibiotic usage.