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Murphy Administration Deploys More Help to Hurricane-Hit Islands

State-of-the-art Mobile Surgery Emergency Department will supplement medical services in St. Croix

virgin islands
Credit: WNYC News

Garden State healthcare workers are continuing to help fellow Americans on the nation's hurricane-ravaged tropical islands, thanks in part to a mobile hospital unit, state officials deployed late last week.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Friday that the state-of-the-art operation - contained in a series of expandable tractor trailers stored in Ewing - had shipped out from Pennsauken Port Terminal and would arrive in the U.S. Virgin Islands in roughly two weeks. The move followed a request from the Virgin Islands Department of Health to help support services at Juan F. Louis Hospital and Medical Center in St. Croix.

"New Jersey is committed to doing everything possible to help the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from this disaster - including helping this devastated hospital that is struggling to care for its patients," Murphy said. "We are fortunate to have the unit, and it's the right thing to do."

The Mobile Satellite Emergency Department is owned and operated by a non-profit consortium of New Jersey hospitals, in collaboration with the state Department of Health, and was developed under the guidance of the New Jersey Hospital Association as a portable healthcare resource. It was used during Hurricane Sandy and Super Bowl XLVIII, in the Meadowlands, and has been set up for veteran's events that involve clinical screenings.

Murphy's move comes on top of several other efforts by New Jersey officials and nonprofit healthcare providers to assist residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in early September. Power, water, and other services were knocked out on much of the islands, and physicians and hospitals have struggled to get services to people in need.

"I'm encouraged by and extremely pleased with the support the U.S. Virgin Islands are receiving from the state of New Jersey. Assistance from the New Jersey Mobile Satellite Emergency Department will be instrumental in getting our hospitals operational so they can serve the USVI community," USVI Health Officer Michele Davis said.

Deploying crisis counselors

The state Department of Health deployed several Disaster Response Crisis Counselors - volunteers trained in psychology, social work, and emergency response - to the Virgin Islands for the first three weeks of October. Another pair of DRCC's visited the islands in mid-November, for several weeks.

These teams worked with local first responders, schools, and churches to provide crisis counseling and other support that reached some 1,500 island residents, officials said, and it marked the first time they provided assistance outside the continental United States.

The DOH also partnered with the Hospital Association to recruit volunteer nurses for two 15-day sessions in November, the state said. Volunteers came from Lourdes Hospital, in Camden, Hackettstown Medical Center, St. Peters Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center. and others to assist USVI residents.

In addition, CareOne - which operates 29 nursing homes and other facilities for Medicare patients - organized several missions last fall to Puerto Rico, where it has a sister organization, and has promised to continue to support healthcare efforts on the island through the spring. CareOne was assisted by dozens of volunteers from RWJ/Barnabas, the state's largest healthcare provider.

The mobile hospital, which was developed by a group of 16 hospitals and NJHA to support the state's healthcare infrastructure, is now maintained by Hackensack University Medical Center. It involves a system of modules that contain an emergency department/intensive-care unit, an operating suite, and various support resources. The expandable tractor-trailer units can be connected to each other or attached to a building.

The request to deploy the satellite ED came through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a multistate and U.S. territory mutual-aid pact authorized by the U.S. Congress and codified in statute in New Jersey, the state said.

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