Tribal Health Center Doctor Gets Emergency Duty Call

In response to recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, 58 United States Public Health Service officers including the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center provider Dr. Tara Van Orden, were deployed and continue to assist victims from three of the worst weather events in history.

“A day did not go by without someone asking about her,” said Andrea Johnson-Harper.  “We are so very proud of her.”

Dr. Tara Van Orden

In mid-September, Van Orden initially reported to Houston and was eventually sent to help at a shelter in Fort Myers, Fla.  She just returned this week from assisting hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Van Orden and other health service officers form Disaster Medical Assistance Teams which are professional and para-professional medical personnel organized to provide rapid-response medical care or casualty decontamination during a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other incidents in the United States.

“It was stressful leaving the health center, especially my patients, but I knew the people impacted by the hurricanes needed help,” Van Orden said in between her assignment.

The three hurricanes caused record levels of rainfall and flooding which affected millions of people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Latin America.

During hurricanes, high winds cause water surges, flooding and are often followed by additional damaging winds and rainfall.

“We actually were onsite when Hurricane Irma hit Florida,” Dr. Van Orden said.  “Typically, we arrive after a disaster, but in this case, we sheltered in place in a high school building just like thousands of others.“

The Indian Health Service (IHS) United States Public Health Service Officers work to assess the needs of local service units, tribes and tribal organizations to assist with health care and medical needs for those impacted by the storms.

The deployed officers represented 11 of the 12 IHS area offices.

The Public Health Service officers provided support with efforts such as delivering pharmaceutical supplies, assisting those who rely upon electricity-dependent medical equipment like wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and blood sugar monitors; evacuating hospital patients; and staffing Federal Medical Stations.

In the aftermath of the storms, a group of 36 mental health team members continued to provide emergency support in the form of direct clinical, behavioral and mental health services, including individual and family crisis intervention, staff and workforce protection counseling, emergency on-call service and disaster case management.

Hurricane Irma impacted the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, Catawba in South Carolina, Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina and the Pamunkey Tribe in Virginia, though Van Orden’s assignments have not been in Indian Country.

The IHS preparations include taking protective measures, assuring food, fuel, water and ice with contingency plans, and establishing points of distribution.

According to an official press release distributed by IHS, the agency takes great pride in providing help to tribal nations and to all members of the public who have been affected by the recent hurricanes.

And there’s no doubt that pride extends right back to the RSTHC.

Editor’s Note:
Much of this article was provided by Leonda Levchuk, IHS Public Affairs Specialist, whose agency granted permission to the RSIC to reproduce her work.