Tornado Relief Volunteers Encouraged to Protect Themselves

May 30, 2013

Mercy Oklahoma co-workers go into the Plaza Towers
neighborhood in Moore to distribute tetanus shots

MOORE, Okla. -- Volunteers from all over the country flooded Moore this past week, hoping to contribute to the recovery of the May 21 EF5 tornado that left thousands of Moore residents homeless.

Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City President Jim Gebhart and Chief of Staff Dustan Buckley, M.D., wanted to help, too.

“Because we’re so far north, our hospital didn’t receive any tornado victims to care for last week, but we knew there were other ways we could provide medical support in Moore,” said Gebhart. “Dr. Buckley and I started working immediately so see how Mercy could chip in. Co-workers from all over were looking to us to find out how to help.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Buckley and a group of physicians, nurses, administrators and volunteers from Mercy were boarding a bus to Moore, where they’d set up the first medical tent on site.

“The first full day we were there, we saw over 250 people,” said Buckley. “To put that into perspective, the emergency department at our hospital sees on average 150 people per day. Our co-workers were doing that from a tent on the side of 4th Street.”

Since that day, Mercy has received permission from FEMA and the Oklahoma State Department of Health to take “mobile units” into the neighborhoods. Free of charge, Mercy has distributed more than 1,500 tetanus shots, treated wounds and distributed emergency medicines like insulin, asthma medications and blood pressure medications to those who lost their medications in the tornado.

Buckley said the first few days the most common ailments she saw in the medical tent were puncture wounds, cuts and scrapes. She encouraged anyone handling debris to get a tetanus shot, just to be safe. In the last few days, she’s seeing a lot more people dealing with respiratory issues.

“The volunteers are putting themselves in dangerous positions and we appreciate their willingness to help, but they need to take precautions to keep themselves safe, too,” said Buckley. “We’re seeing a lot of people with respiratory issues because there’s no telling what they’re inhaling out there.”

The neighborhoods devastated by the tornado are extremely dangerous places to be. In addition to the potential chemicals, dust, and mold residents and volunteers breathe in during clean-up; they’re exposing themselves to broken glass, sharp metal, splintered wood, rusty nails, etc. Buckley recommends taking these steps to reduce chances of getting injured or sick while volunteering:

  • Wear a mask or bandana to cover nose and mouth to prevent ingesting debris particles

  • Wear boots or other protective shoes, rather than flip flops, thin-soled shoes or sandals

  • Wear thick work gloves

  • Get a tetanus shot

  • Wear long sleeves and pants

  • Wear sun block and a hat

  • Drink plenty of water

“Mercy will provide care in Moore as long as we’re needed,” said Buckley. “There’s no shortage of Mercy co-workers who want to help, and we just want to help get our community back.”

For updates on Mercy’s locations and services available, follow @MercyOklahoma on Twitter and like “Mercy Oklahoma”’ on Facebook.

Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 39,000 co-workers and 1,900 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 



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