Operation Lifeline: Health Care Professionals from Maryland Respond to Hurricane Katrina
MARYLAND DEFENSE FORCE PIKESVILLE MD
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The largest single natural disaster in U.S. history began on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina came ashore, striking three Gulf Coast states. Americans were both stunned and eager to help the storms victims. Fortunately, the Maryland Defense Force MDDF, and its Medical Reserve Corps, was ready to respond. Governor Robert Ehrlich was notified through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact EMAC that Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, had put out a call for help in meeting the medical needs of the areas 452,000 residents. Governor Ehrlich activated the MDDF, a volunteer organization within a military structure that includes health care professionals willing to go to the site of a natural or manmade disaster to provide medical, psychological, and legal resources for the affected population. Deployment to Louisiana in response to Hurricane Katrina marked the first time the MDDF had been called to service outside the state during its 88-year history. The MDDF deployment ultimately involved 250 sworn volunteers who treated 6300 patients. The operation ended after 18 days for two reasons. First, the parish government, while deeply appreciative of our presence, was ready to begin reestablishing medical services provided by local practitioners using local resources. Parish President Broussard felt that our continued presence might delay the process of true recovery. Second, Hurricane Rita was possibly aiming for Louisiana, so the military instructed us to leave that area, now at risk of further damage. Previous disasters and mass casualty incidents have shown that, when well-intentioned responders, including health care providers and mental health professionals, rush to an affected area, they can easily become part of the problem rather part of the solution. The MDDF, with its integral military command and control structure, allows a streamlined, efficient, and well-informed disaster response.
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