Delivering Health—and Hope—to Hurricane Survivors in Florida
By Shelley Wenk, International Medical Corps
On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as one of the strongest hurricanes on record to hit the United States. Smashing into the Sunshine State’s southwestern coast, the Category 4 storm destroyed homes, knocked out power and communications, contaminated drinking water and wreaked havoc on infrastructure. The storm also upended people’s lives: about 130 deaths in Florida have been attributed to it, while thousands remain in shelters.
With supplies delivered to the disaster zone by FedEx, International Medical Corps deployed a mobile medical unit (MMU) within days, first to Port Charlotte and then to Englewood, a coastal community just north of Fort Meyers. Some of the people we saw at the clinic had only minor damage to their homes, while others had lost everything. The one thing everyone was having trouble with was getting access to healthcare. Given the extensive storm damage and power outages, many local businesses were not operating, including doctors’ offices and pharmacies. And only one of the six hospitals in the county was fully functional. Repeatedly, we heard, “I can’t reach my doctor,” and “My pharmacy is shut down.” Others complained of long wait times at the one emergency room in the area that was open. For many, uncertainty about their medical concerns only added to the worries they were facing in the aftermath of the storm.
Our team of volunteer doctors and nurses cleaned, dressed and closed wounds, refilled prescriptions for those with chronic conditions, checked blood pressure and blood sugar levels, gave flu shots and provided general health consultations. “I had a very large cyst on the back of my hand that was supposed to be treated by a doctor in North Port, but everything’s closed,” said one patient who received care at our MMU.
“We’re trying to treat people before there is a need for them to go to a higher level of care,” explained nurse Pat Martin-Heath. Providing urgent care from a mobile clinic can help reduce the stress on existing health facilities, which are likely to be overwhelmed in a disaster, and prevent easily treatable conditions from becoming life-threatening medical emergencies.
FedEx and International Medical Corps have a long history of collaborating to support communities around the world in their moment of greatest need. “Our collaboration with FedEx has helped us, time and time again, deliver on our mission of saving lives and relieving the suffering of people affected by war, disease and disaster,” says Rebecca Milner, Chief Advancement Officer for International Medical Corps. “We could not be more grateful.”