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Team Temple Cares for Hundreds in Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico

POSTED ON July 18, 2018

Dr. Kisha Martin (pictured far left) was part of a team that traveled to Puerto Rico to care for residents still recovering from Hurricane Irma. Joining Dr. Martin were Dr. Bill Greenfield of the Greenfield Foundation and over a dozen Temple physicians, staff members and students.

After spending a week in Puerto Rico in late March, the sight that resonated most with Kisha Martin, MD, was the darkness.

“There were still a lot of areas that didn’t have power, so driving from the airport there were no traffic lights,” says Dr. Martin, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Clinical Operations at the TUH Episcopal Campus. “We were traveling on these major roads, and there wasn’t a single light. But you could still make out a lot of fallen trees hanging on the power lines.”

At the time of her visit, which came six months after Hurricane Irma made landfall, approximately 11 percent of Puerto Rico was still without power. Thousands of FEMA-provided generators were still the primary source of power for many of the island’s hospitals, police and fire stations, correctional facilities, and water pumps.

Dr. Martin traveled to Puerto Rico with 14 student members of the Temple Emergency Action Corps (TEAC), as well as two psychiatrists and a family medicine physician, all from Temple. A largely student-run organization, TEAC’s mobile relief teams have provided medical care, counseling and aid to thousands affected by disasters in several Central and South American countries, as well as here in the United States.

In all, Dr. Martin’s group visited five of the most ravaged cities across the island and neighboring Vieques, a tiny sister island of less than 9,500 people off of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. At each stop, they teamed up with local medical school students and community physicians, who laid the groundwork for their arrival.

They opened a clinic stocked with supplies and medications furnished by TEAC and saw between 100 and 150 patients a day, many of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. On their first day, the students and doctors were deluged; they’d tended to roughly 250 people by day’s end.

Their last stop, though, was perhaps the most dramatic illustration of what many Puerto Ricans have endured over the past few months. Vieques has no hospital; only an emergency department tent that, when TEAC visited, operated only from dusk to dawn because there was still no power. The two physicians who manned it, Dr. Martin says, were the island’s de facto healthcare system.

The Greenfield Foundation provides much of the financial support for TEAC, and it did for this trip, too. But a sizable portion also came from the community within and around Temple University Hospital’s Episcopal campus. Through various fundraisers leading up to the trip, including a flea market stocked with goods donated by Episcopal staff, and a handful of raffles, over $2,000 was raised for the expedition, along with $3,000 in medical supplies. Philadelphia Pharmacy, located across the street from the Episcopal campus, also donated some of the medication. The rest, Dr. Martin says, was purchased at cost.

“A lot of people really rallied around this effort,” she says.