FIU medical volunteers help local hospitals deal with surge in emergency patients

President Rosenberg meets with the Jackson South Medical Center staff and the FIU-FAST team during a visit to the hospital Sept. 14.

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, FIU’s medical disaster response team continues to answer the call for help.

An offshoot of the FIU-Florida Advanced Surgical Transport team (FIU-FAST), the group of medical volunteers was called on by the Florida Health Department to support local hospitals dealing a surge in emergency room patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The FIU team set up missions at two Miami-area hospitals: Jackson South Medical Center and West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

With power outages throughout South Florida and urgent care centers, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other medical facilities closed in the days following the storm, the medical disaster response team’s presence at Jackson South aimed to help the hospital deal with an influx of patients.

The goal: reduce patient wait times and tend to patients with less complex medical emergencies so that hospital staff could focus on more acute injuries and minimize the level of stress in these medical environments.

“Having FIU gives us a means of further educating, enforcing and improving the systems that we have here at Jackson Health,” said Gina Diaz, senior vice president and chief executive officer at Jackson South Medical Center. “Serving the community is part of our mission that both FIU and Jackson South share, and that’s a recipe for success.”

President Mark B. Rosenberg and Ruben D. Almaguer, assistant vice president of Emergency Management and Environmental Health & Safety, have visited both facilities in recent days to meet with hospital administrators and FIU team members on the ground.

“FIU is willing to take responsibility for our community and there’s no better example of that than what the FIU-FAST team has been doing the past couple of days,” Rosenberg said. “I’m really proud of our medical volunteers who make a difference. Their passion for helping, their concern for the community and their willingness to sacrifice their own personal interests in order to help others, that’s who we are and that’s what we do at FIU.”

FIU deployed an 18-member team Sept. 13 to help out at Jackson South Community Hospital. The team was comprised of three paramedics, two physicians, two nurse practitioners, one physician assistant and 10 registered nurses and operated out of the hospital’s emergency room.

Bridget Pelaez, a nurse, paramedic and one of the commanders for the FIU-FAST team, has been working 12-hour shifts at both Jackson South and West Kendall Baptist this week.

President Rosenberg meets with the emergency room staff at Jackson South Medical Center.

At Jackson South, Pelaez and the rest of FIU’s team of medical volunteers helped dozens of patients suffering from a wide array of injuries and medical illnesses such as gunshot wounds, injuries as a result of chainsaw accidents, respiratory infections, and kidney and liver damage.

“These emergency rooms can become a bottleneck after a disaster, and we are here to offer solutions. Our goal is to help these hospitals get back to normal functioning,” says Pelaez.

The missions continue to strengthen the collaboration and partnerships between university and the local medical community.

While Miami was spared the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s fiercest winds, Almaguer stressed that the medical community must use this close call as an opportunity to think about future disasters.

“This wasn’t the big one,” Almaguer said. “Hopefully this storm is a wake-up call to the medical community, including FIU disaster medical response teams, that you can never prepare enough or have enough medical professionals, trained individuals or supplies. This just makes us stronger and I see us being more prepared next year than we were this year.”