Our Community Spotlight Series highlights responder organizations and agencies who share PathFinder’s commitment to build and empower communities toward capable self-sustainability and proactive action during, and following, a disaster.
Oregon's DMAT had three individuals who deployed on aeromedical team in March to support COVID-19 response efforts.
In the first of our Community Spotlight Series, PathFinderEX spoke with Dr. Helen Miller, Team Commander for the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), OR2 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), about her team’s deployment to provide assistance with the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
The Oregon Disaster Management Team, or ODMT (the nonprofit state organization) and the National Disaster Management System, or NDMS DMAT (Federal team) initially functioned as a public-private partnership combined with the National Disaster Medical System in July 1999.
Left: The Oregon DMAT health and medical task force deployed to Nebraska in February.
When the Homeland Security Department was formed after events of 9-11, the NDMS program and teams were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and later placed under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA disallowed that integrated relationship with the ODMT nonprofit sponsor and OHSU hospital partner. Dr. Miller says the two entities continue to have a great working relationship, and have some team responders in common with ODMT. They have complementary but different activation mechanisms and missions.
Disaster Medical Assistance (DMAT) - OR2 is the team representing Oregon in the National Disaster Medical System now under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. All personnel are intermittent special government employees and, like the National Guard, are covered under the Uniformed Services Act (USERRA) since 2001.
“We can serve as a traditional 35-position DMAT configuration or smaller Health and Medical task forces,” Dr. Miller said. “Our medical professionals are required to have active licensure and current hands-on patient care job according to their position description, meet physical readiness and medical requirements and Federal security requirements.”
Left: Oregon's DMAT pharmacist deployed to California in March to assist with COVID-19 response efforts there.
The unit members’ missions are under specific orders and usually 14 days in duration, and can extend longer. The national units themselves are on a quarterly deployment rotation.
NDMS can be found on the web at: https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/responders/ndms/Pages/default.aspx
PFX: What were your top three observations during your team’s recent response to COVID-19?
Dr. Miller: For the Federal DMAT (NDMS DMAT OR2), my top three personal observations are;
1) Federal public health and medical response to COVID19 was rapid to charter air transport and quarantine all American citizens and green card holders coming back from Wuhan, China to military bases for screening and care in an effort to flatten the curve of surge impact on our US healthcare system.
Oregon DMAT was first-out 35-member team for that mission (lead agency State Department), and also deployed 11 additional personnel in March (3 on aeromedical crews) in a similar effort for returning cruise ship passengers (lead agency CDC). DMAT OR2 individual responders augmented teams on the east coast and at the HHS Secretary's Operations Center in April.
Caring for quarantined patients in CA, NE and TX taught lessons about screening, testing, medical care, and responder health and safety with a novel infectious pathogen. International travelers received expert care and returned across the country safely, without bringing the virus back to their families or home communities due to these efforts.
2) Diligent personal protective equipment including fit-tested N95 or P100 respiratory protection, eye protection, gowns and gloves were effective to protect healthcare responders on NDMS aeromedical, military base quarantine site, and COVID-19 care site missions. Responders were monitored daily during and for two weeks after return from deployment. No NDMS responder contracted the virus.
3) What is important to share is our collective gratitude for the commitment and service of our NDMS DMAT responders, and to their regular-job colleagues and families who made it possible for them to deploy. Our team is on rotation again in June, which is also the start of hurricane season. Natural disaster response in the context of the pandemic will be novel and challenging as well.
PFX: What have you gained personally through these volunteer efforts, and what is the biggest takeaway from your involvement in the COVID-19 response?
Dr. Miller: Our team’s mission activation developed within hours just prior to our February rotation month. While I was not able to deploy personally for the first time in 25 years, I was gratified and proud of our depth in leadership, incident-command structure, experienced skilled professionals, and strong safety officers who set a standard of excellence and courage in this unique, and intense mission to flatten the curve of surge to our home communities and healthcare system.
PFX: What is the biggest "lesson learned" or tip from your recent experience that might benefit other disaster response groups?
Dr. Miller: Plan, train and solidify your first steps in activation, site assessment, and hands-on care. Never compromise the fundamentals of responder health and safety.
ODMT is a 501c3 non-profit and registered state volunteer non-transport Oregon EMS agency. ODMT can volunteer at community service events or be activated by the State. ODMT participated in COVID19 nursing home testing and was intensely involved in alternate care site planning. For more information visit their website at: ODMT.org.
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This post was published to the PathFinderEX website on July 13, 2020.