For Steve Moody, the heartfelt appreciation that’s come his way puts more than a week of hard work in treacherous conditions into crystal-clear perspective.
Moody, an emergency room charge nurse at Maine Medical Center in Portland, is a member of the NH-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which has been operating a medical shelter for about 200 victims of Hurricane Sandy on the campus of Lehman College in the Bronx, N.Y.
Moody’s patients, many of them residents of New York City nursing homes, have been effusive in their praise for the care they have received in the cluster of tents set up on the college’s commons.
“These people have told us repeatedly that they don’t want to go back home,” Moody, 46, said Friday in a telephone interview. “It’s been an eye-opening, awesome experience.”
Moody, who lives in Waterboro, is one of 12 Mainers on the 17-member team, which includes doctors, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, paramedics and other medical professionals from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. They’re working with a 31-member team from Connecticut.
The teams are part of the National Disaster Medical System operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fifteen of 90 teams across the nation have been deployed to help people in New York and New Jersey who were displaced last week by Sandy.
This is the first deployment for the tri-state team, which was formed by Dr. Robert Gougelet of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. The team specializes in providing disaster care in austere winter environments.
Still, it has been tough living and working in tents, putting in 12- to 14-hour days, as temperatures in recent days turned colder. A nor’easter hit Wednesday, dumping snow on the team’s efforts.
“It has been treacherous,” said Joshua Frances, the team’s incident response leader. “We arrived early Oct. 31, a day and a half after Sandy made landfall, and we’ve maintained a 24-7 operation ever since.”
Frances, 35, who lives in Brunswick, is the director of emergency management at Maine Medical Center. On leave from their regular jobs, team members are paid as intermittent federal employees.
“We bring back learning experiences from the field that help emergency response and patient management on the job,” said Frances, who has been on several deployments since his first, for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Back then, he served with a Massachusetts team.
Frances said he has been impressed with the cooperation and camaraderie his colleagues have demonstrated and the consideration New Yorkers have displayed.
“People who are without food or power have come to volunteer their time and bound together in this time of need,” Frances said. “People here are beyond appreciative for the services we’re providing.”
When one team member gave a winter cap to a nursing home resident who was cold, the man was overwhelmed by the small show of concern and generosity.
“It made his day,” Frances said. “The little things mean a lot at a time like this.”
Other team members from Maine are Sean Petone of Porter, Gabriel Gunning of Farmington, Amy Strum of Portland, Gayle McKeige of Ellsworth, Greg Kapinos of Scarborough, Robin Nesbeda of Andover, Cliff Whitten of Portland, Heather Meader of Portland, Adam Cafro of Woolwich and Tony Simpson of Waterford.
The medical shelter is operating in seven massive white tents that are fully equipped with generators to produce electricity for lights, a heating and air-conditioning system, a laboratory, an X-ray and ultrasound unit and a pharmacy.
“A lot of these people didn’t have their medications when they were evacuated, and we’re treating a lot of chronic disease that’s been exacerbated by the stress of the hurricane and being off their medications for two or three days,” Frances said.
The 200 people served at the medical shelter include hospital patients, nursing home residents and clients of special-needs facilities who were evacuated before the storm, said team spokesman Robert Stirewalt, who lives in Vermont.
About half of the patients have chronic health conditions that require constant or acute care, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Others are people who otherwise would be taxing already crowded hospitals that weren’t affected by the storm.
Once patients are stabilized, they’re moved into the college’s gymnasium, ballet studio and racquetball courts. The college resumed classes Monday, after closing because of the storm.
Future operation of the medical shelter was unclear Friday evening as the team neared the end of its deployment Saturday. A few team members had asked to stay on if their services were needed. Frances and Moody were eager to come home but grateful for their experiences.
“It’s been challenging,” Moody said. “I’m an ER nurse. I usually fix ’em up and send ’em home or send ’em upstairs. It’s been rewarding to take part in a whole different type of nursing, where you really get to know the people you’re working with.”
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: