|A Veteran patient is cared for in Atlanta awaiting transfer to South Carolina. Evacuations like this one in 2005 are not always needed, but always considered in hurricane season.|
Hurricane Earl, the seventh named storm of the 2010 hurricane season, brushed past the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, bringing heavy rains and strong winds, and authorities also expect a close call on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard just before the Labor Day weekend.
“VA facilities from North Carolina to New York and beyond are poised and ready to take whatever comes their way,” said Ramona Joyce, Director of VA’s Washington Regional Office of Intergovernmental and Public Affairs. “Right now we’re doing partial evacuations of mobile patients from our Hampton (Virginia) VA Medical Center. We’re working with three other sister medical centers, in Virginia and North Carolina, who will be taking these patients.
“It takes team work to successfully prepare for, respond to and recover from these events,” Joyce continued. “Here at VA we have strong preparedness, response and recovery plans that allow us to focus on the well-being of our Veterans and staff.”
She added: “As a nation we learned from Katrina that you can’t be too cautious.”
Mary Kay Hollingsworth, a VA communications manager based in Lake City, Fla., said VA makes it a point not to forget the lessons it learned during previous storm seasons, and prides itself on always “putting Veterans first” when a hurricane strikes.
“Past hurricane seasons have tested our nation’s ability to respond to and recover from catastrophic storms,” she said. “We all remember the far-reaching devastation caused by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Ivan, Katrina and Rita. Through the years, VA employees across the nation have been recognized for their dedication to our patients and fellow employees — employees who refused to abandon their duties, even when they had no knowledge of the condition of their own homes and families.
“A big part of our success,” she continued, “comes from reaching out to Veterans and their families before, during and after a storm. Living in the ‘Hurricane Belt,’ we know about personal preparedness kits — stocking up on items you’ll need to help you weather the storm. We make sure Veterans know about some of the special items they may need, including additional prescription medications and other medical equipment such as extra oxygen.”
“We also make sure they have a shelter plan,” added Reggie Kornegay, a VA emergency preparedness coordinator at the Orlando VA Medical Center. “Do they have family to stay with? Will they need to go to a community shelter? If they have significant health issues, will they need to come into a VA medical center? We also educate them in advance about our special toll-free hotline that is established to provide important information — facility closures, appointment rescheduling and pharmacy refills.”
Kornegay said that during major storms, VA websites and phone centers are continuously updated with current information on actions being taken by VA and actions that need to be taken by its Veteran patients. “We reach out to our Veterans through the media too,” Kornegay said. “Getting the word out about altered services and when we’ll be back up and running is vital information for our patients. Even after the storm, we reach out to our Veterans. We make sure they weathered the storm OK, determine if they have needs that haven’t been met and help them through any issues they might be facing.
“Our Veterans were there for us when it counted,” he said. “Now we’re going to be there for them.”
By Tom Cramer, VA Staff Writer