Deployment experience in North Carolina

This past fall volunteer Deb Thingstad Boe responded for the first time to a Red Cross call for nurses to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Deb deployed to North Carolina where she worked in a shelter. Below is an excerpt of  Deb’s experience originally published in the December 2018 Minnesota Metro Medical Reserve Corps newsletter. Thank you to Deb for responding to the call to serve when you’re needed most!

Deb at Smith shelter in Fayetteville

I found out the deployment process moves fast! I spoke with the Red Cross on September 25, which was almost three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and six days later I was on the ground in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was deployed through what is called Direct Deployment (DD), which is a rapid process used to ready healthcare workers for disaster work.

Once I received a call from Red Cross staff affirming my desire to deploy, I completed forms and about 15 hours of required online training and attended a deployment training in-person. At this training I received my disaster response ID, and mission and procurement cards. The mission card was used for my expenses and the procurement card was used to help clients (there is training on this!).

Along the way I also received a suggested packing list that was invaluable. Among those items were a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I found out later that it’s more difficult if you do not own these items when you arrive on assignment without them.  The best thing I purchased to prepare was a self-inflating air mattress that fit on the cot I slept on. Ear plugs are a must! If I didn’t wear them, then I worried about whether the next breath is coming for some people. I wasn’t the only healthcare volunteer that talked about that.

Red Cross volunteer staff shelter (a.k.a. home)

Although it felt like everything was moving fast, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided I would go with the flow, take things as they come and try to do my best.

My assignment was to work 12-hour shifts at Smith Recreation Center. This Red Cross shelter was planned to be the last to close in Fayetteville. This meant that as other shelters closed people who had not been able to find housing were relocated to Smith. The shelter had about 150 people in residence, many who were among the most vulnerable people in the city: people with mobility issues, unstable chronic conditions exacerbated by displacement, chronic untreated mental illness, addiction, in hospice care, and (previous to the disaster) long-term homelessness.

Every day was different and yet alike. Within the first fifteen minutes of the first day, I was instructed on how to administer Narcan and safety precautions related to the environment. I was informed that public health obtained Narcan for the shelters because there was a death due to opioids. The shelter had many residents who accessed Disaster Health Services on a daily basis. I learned about “shelter cough.” When I arrived many residents and staff had upper respiratory symptoms, and I wondered about influenza and whether residents had been offered flu vaccinations. Just listening was an important component of care.

Visiting rural communities in North Carolina

My experience with Public Health came in very handy. Part of the plan to help one woman in the shelter included food as a prescription for her chronic health needs. Listening and choices were critical to helping her. During my three hours with her, I managed to work in stress management tips and the power of positive-thinking and being forward-moving in thought and actions.

I finished my time working in rural North Carolina working with the community to identify unmet needs, assess how migrant farm workers were managing, and identify where the Red Cross could help. We partnered with Spanish-speaking restaurant owners to inform the area churches of our presence. They opened up an area of their restaurant for Red Cross services and allowed a food truck to be positioned in their parking lot. People came for blood pressure and glucose level checks, OTC meds, blankets, diapers, and TLC (tender-loving care). Staff assigned included an interpreter, disaster mental health, and disaster healthcare. Listening and caring were critical elements of care.

Deb and her new friend Lois

One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting volunteers from other places. The first night a few of us who had met at the shelter gathered together and headed out to dinner. None of us were assigned to the same place, which meant we met more people the next day. I met a retired pulmonologist and two EMTs, and we had dinner together every night starting on night two of a ten-day deployment. We had fun, and it was a good transition to sleep and the next day.

Deb Thingstad Boe is an American Red Cross Volunteer and a Dakota County Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer (MRC). Photos provided by Deb. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Red Cross for life after Katrina

It’s been ten years since Katrina, and Dan Hoffman is still a dedicated Red Cross volunteer. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

“I became a Red Crosser for life after Katrina.” Ten years ago, Dan Hoffman, from New Brighton, Minnesota, was one of 245,000 Red Cross disaster workers who responded to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. Dan recently sat down with Red Cross intern Vivi Engen to look back on his experience.

Tell me about how you got involved with Katrina.

Katrina was my first national deployment. At the time, I was an employee for the Red Cross at the St. Paul Chapter and a trained disaster volunteer. I got a phone call on the day the storm hit asking if I wanted to deploy, and I accepted. I was on a plane later that afternoon headed down to Houston. From Houston, I was assigned to work at a 6,000 person American Red Cross shelter at the Convention Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Convention Center in Baton, Rouge, LA where Dan worked during is deployment.
The Convention Center in Baton, Rouge, LA where Dan Hoffman worked during is deployment. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

What was it like to be at the shelter?

The first few days I would describe as organized chaos. Buses and helicopters unloaded a steady flow of scared, mud-covered people just pulled from disaster. We knew what we needed to do–what the Red Cross always does–everything from setting up portable showers outside the convention center, to providing clothes and hygiene kits, and registering people and contacting other shelter locations to find lost loved ones. We did this for 12 hours a day, and just like the refugees, slept on cots. We saw, and lived it all. I knew that I was part of something big and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

Tell me about what you did there.

I think a better question is what didn’t I do. I worked the floor so I did whatever needed to be done. I did everything from giving teddy bears to kids, diapers to moms, to taking down names of people sleeping on cardboard boxes because we ran out of cots early on and pushing people around in wheelchairs who couldn’t walk. But more than anything I would just listen. These people were hurting and needed to tell their story.

What were some of the stories that had an impact on you?

Red Crossers busy at work in the shelter.
Red Cross relief workers busy at the shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo provided courtesy of Dan Hoffman.

I’ll tell you a few of my favorites…

Miss Evelyn was one of our shelter residents. Her home had been destroyed by the storm, and when the rescue crew came to save her, they told her she had to leave her dog, Pepper, behind. Pepper was Miss Evelyn’s only family, and she was heartbroken without him. There was a pet shelter set up at Louisiana State University, and a couple of days after talking to Miss Evelyn, I stopped over there while on a supply run to see if I could find her dog. I found a Red Cross worker and asked her if she had seen Pepper and she said she would be in touch. A few days later, I received a few photos of different dogs at the shelter. I showed them to Miss Evelyn and, wouldn’t you know, there was Pepper smiling back at her in one of the photos.

Another woman, Hattie Mae, came to the Red Cross shelter unable to walk, and unable to fit into a wheel chair. A day later I stopped by the local hospital and “commandeered” an over-sized wheelchair to lend to Hattie Mae because she needed something to get around in. I will never forget the look on her face, or the hug that she gave me, when I came back with that chair.

Cots were set up all through the Convention Center for refugees who lost their homes.
Cots were set up all through the convention center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Hurricane Katrina refugees who lost their homes. Photo provided courtesy of Dan Hoffman.

Miss Amelia, another refugee, who was a kind of matriarch over a large family community, introduced me to her family. “This is Mr. Dan, he’s Red Cross, so listen to him.” It sure gave me instant credibility. Then she turned to me and said “You came all the way form Minnesota to help us, you must be an angel.” I am no angel, but I do share the gratitude that the refugees had for my work, for the experience that they gave me. The people at the shelter who had lost everything were so gratified, so appreciative for the smallest things that it changed the way I see life today. And that’s something I will never be able to repay them for.

How did this experience transform your commitment to the Red Cross?

After Katrina, I realized that the work that the Red Cross does is my calling. Once I came home, I shared all of the incredible stories I had been told, what the Red Cross did and how the Red Cross helped all these people.  Just like the stories of the shelter refugees needed to be shared, so did the Red Cross’.

Katrina Pix 027_2
Dan Hoffman (far right) with other Red Cross disaster relief workers and a Hurricane Katrina refugee in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to finish up with a woman named Misty. While working at a shelter as a volunteer, you half adopt people while you are there, meaning there are certain individuals that you go in to check on or eat with them on a regular basis. Misty was one of those people for me. Misty is a poet, and on the day of the storm she wrote a poem that was angry. Angry at Katrina and all of the destruction it had caused and how it impacted her–she lost her dog and everything she owned. A few weeks after I got home, I received a letter in the mail. It was another poem from Misty titled “Thank You”. The last line of the poem read “memories of you will never leave my heart.”  Now I ask you, how could an experience like that not change your life?

To learn more about how you can volunteer with the Red Cross, chick here.

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