Ocean County Press Release
Health Department's Medical Needs Shelter Highlighted 4/10/2013

IN EARLY March, the Ocean County Health Department's response to the public's sheltering needs during Superstorm Sandy was highlighted at the National Public Health Preparedness Summit in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which included 1,700 people representing 12 countries.

"There were many lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy," said Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department. "One of those lessons focuses on the many needs that come with sheltering the public and keeping them from harms way during severe weather events like Sandy."

Simplified in a 4x8 poster submitted to summit leaders, Ocean County Health Department representatives walked summit participants through the steps taken during the storm at the Medical Needs Shelter.

"We received very good feedback from many different people," said Daniel Regenye, Ocean County Public Health Coordinator. "Our work with the medical needs shelter fills a very big gap in sheltering when it comes to addressing the health of shelter occupants. The Medical Needs Shelter plays an integral role in sheltering citizens during disasters."

According to Regenye, the Ocean County Health Department was selected through the Southern New Jersey Modular Medical Expansion System grant to receive a 31-foot trailer fully equipped to support a 25-bed medical unit.

The trailer was deployed 24 hours prior to Superstorm Sandy making landfall and was set up at Toms River High School North which was the site of a storm shelter overseen by the American Red Cross.

"By placing the trailer at the shelter site we also were able to share services such as food and security," Regenye said. "The magnitude of storm devastation transformed the Medical Needs Shelter into a larger, more robust unit, caring for more acute needs and many more patients than originally anticipated."

Regenye added that with additional grant funded assets, Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, hospital partnerships and a staff of home health/clinic nurses, the Medical Needs Shelter was expanded from the original model, accepting appointments from the general population shelter as well as direct discharges from local hospitals and urgent ambulance transfers from three other county shelters for evacuees with medical needs.

"The medical needs shelter operated for seven days under very difficult conditions," said Freeholder Director John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety. "I want to commend our health department staff and the other participating agencies for handling numerous medical cases with professionalism and care.

"The response to this storm came in many different ways and much of the work was done behind the scenes," Kelly said. "These workers are really unsung heroes, they are the men and women who I am sure were also affected by the storm and yet they took care of our citizens in need of medical attention."

Over the course of the storm and the time the shelter remained open, there were 1,000 patient visits to the Medical Needs Shelter. In addition, 380 nursing hours and 232 Medical Reserve Corps volunteer hours were clocked.

Regenye noted that Ocean County's Medical Needs Shelter program has received attention from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which developed a video addressing the public health effects of Superstorm Sandy in collaboration with the Ocean County Health Department and the New Jersey Department of Health.

"The National Preparedness Summit opened with the video," Regenye said.

"No agency functions as an island during these emergencies," Little said. "The Medical Needs Shelter highlights the importance of agencies on many levels working together. And, Superstorm Sandy is now the impetus for continuing conversations on this kind of help."

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