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Nurse, counselor aid hurricane survivors

By : Rachel Coker

Two University employees have put their special skills to work helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina, whose devastating effects continue to be felt in the South and throughout the nation.

Veteran emergency trauma nurse Laura Terriquez-Kasey, a clinical instructor with the Decker School of Nursing, and Nancy Lamberty, a staff social worker in the counseling center, have each spent time in the disaster zone. Terriquez-Kasey returned recently after two weeks in Mississippi and Louisiana with a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Lamberty, meanwhile, left last weekend to provide disaster mental health services with the Red Cross.

“Everybody did everything they could possibly have done,” said Terriquez-Kasey, who is frustrated by many media accounts of the disaster. “You can’t just throw resources in without some sort of basic game plan.”

She acknowledged it was difficult for her and other members of her 35-person team to wait for orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and for security arrangements to be made. Still, medical assistance was offered at some 200 sites, and security issues were a major concern.

“I think we all feel traumatized by it,” Terriquez-Kasey said. “It’s hard to describe to people some of the horrors we saw.”

Her team spent time in Biloxi and Baton Rouge before it was sent to Greta, which is just outside New Orleans.

“The closer you got to New Orleans, the more devastation you saw, the more water you saw,” Terriquez-Kasey said, flipping through pictures she took that showed the view from the highway she traveled.

On the first day the medical team saw 150 patients; by the third and fourth days, that number had grown to more than 700. Some patients suffered from gastrointestinal, cardiac or diabetic problems, while others needed vaccinations and medications. Many also were dehydrated and had mental and emotional issues.

Terriquez-Kasey said the crisis demonstrates a need for better plan-ning at every level. Families should have plans for what they’ll do in an emergency, just as communities should, she said.

Katrina was especially deadly in part because people with serious medical conditions were not evacuated before the storm hit, she said. In her five years with the Westchester County-based disaster team, she has seen the aftermath of other hurricanes, including ones in Florida last year.

“This one was much more wide-spread,” she said. “There was much more devastation than people anticipated.”

That idea of anticipation is essential to Terriquez-Kasey’s teaching. She uses the latest disaster, whether it’s Katrina or the Asian tsunamis, in a class about disaster preparedness that she teaches on-line.

“I try to instill in the students that there are always different types of disasters,” she said. “It’s critical to bring the whole idea of disaster response into the classroom.”

Like Terriquez-Kasey, Lamberty is a veteran of many national crises. She has volunteered with a Red Cross disaster team for nearly a decade, responding to the Sept. 11 attacks as well as floods in Alabama and locally.

“I go to support everyone as much as I can in any way that I can,” she said.

Lamberty expects to spend at least two weeks in Biloxi, Miss., helping hurricane survivors as well as other emergency personnel to cope with the difficult emotions brought on by the crisis. In that way, the situation is similar to other work she has done with the Red Cross. But the harsh conditions, including extremely hot weather and a lack of electricity, will likely put this trip in a class by itself, she said.

She said her job will include helping to tell victims’ stories, documenting what they lost as well as what they need now. It’s exhausting for people to recount over and over again what happened to them, she said. “I’m nervously excited to do some-thing to help,” said Lamberty, who is in particular demand as a counselor because she speaks English and Spanish. “It feels hard to see such dev-astation and not be able to somehow help out. I’m hoping I can make a difference in my small way.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08