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Johns Hopkins Experts Deploy for Second Straight Year After Hurricanes

Michael Millin, emergency medicine physician, performs
surgery while deployed with a federal disaster medical
assistance team in Florida after Hurricane Michael.
Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 

One year after deploying during one of the worst hurricane seasons in U.S. history, several Johns Hopkins faculty and staff members were back on the road assisting medical missions after major storms during the 2018 season.

Both Gai Cole, CEPAR’s chief strategy officer and the assistant administrator in the Department of Emergency Medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Michael Millin, emergency medicine physician and associate professor of emergency medicine, left their homes, families and jobs in October on an 11-day mission in Florida after Hurricane Michael. They worked as part of a 70-member federal disaster medical assistance team (DMAT) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made up of medical personnel from Maryland-1 DMAT, New Jersey-1 DMAT and Delta-1 DMAT from the Mississippi region. Both Millin and Cole also deployed twice last year with DMATs in response to hurricanes Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico.

For this latest mission, Cole and Millin’s team relieved overwhelmed staff at the closest fully operational hospital to the storm, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, a 250-plus bed hospital facility located on the Florida panhandle. The hospital was “functioning at around 150 percent capacity when we got there and busting at the seams with critical care, ICU-level patients who were boarded throughout the entire hospital,” says Millin, who served as the DMAT’s chief medical officer, adding that the clinical staff was exhausted. Once the team arrived, members quickly set up a temporary clinic, pharmacy and administrative area — five tents in the hospital’s parking lot — and were able to provide surge capacity for the main hospital.

“We were seeing around 70 or so patients a day in our tents, which took patients away from their emergency department that the hospital had to see,” Millin says.

Over the course of their mission, Millin and the team cared for more than 800 patients. Many of the injuries and health conditions they saw were related to the hurricane and its aftermath, including wounds and deteriorating chronic medical conditions resulting from lack of medication. Cole provided administrative support to allow the task force to function. “My role was the accountability of team members, mission objectives and scheduling of clinicians,” Cole says. “With clinical input, I built the clinical schedule to meet patient arrival and ED staffing patterns, and tracked patient numbers manually and electronically via the electronic medical record. I also interfaced with the ED staff inside the hospital to help them with operational challenges as they would come up.”

The team built a great relationship with the hospital and its staff while there, which allowed the mission to work well, Millin says. Millin was also credentialed inside the hospital, performing several medical procedures, such as inserting ultrasound-guided IV lines, and in the case of one patient, a chest tube. “So by offloading that procedure, they were able to keep the department moving, which was really significant for them,” he says.

“Dr. Millin has been instrumental in the success of our mission and continues to provide invaluable leadership and world-class clinical care during the worst of times for these communities,” says Jason Paluck, team commander of Maryland-1 DMAT. “With this generous support from Johns Hopkins Medicine, a profoundly impacted region has found relief from urgent medical issues and can focus efforts on their infrastructure recovery.”

While Millin and Cole were in Florida, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the organizations of many other members of the DMAT continued to carry on their mission. “Everybody is there because somebody’s back home filling in for them,” Cole says, who was able to perform many Johns Hopkins-related tasks during late night off-times. Millin had to rely on his colleagues to cover several shifts in the emergency department while he was away.

During the mission, the days were long. Both Cole’s and Millin’s workdays began at 4:30 a.m. and ended around 10:30 p.m. Still, the passion to help during a challenging time is what kept them going during the mission, and they were proud to bring a piece of Johns Hopkins with them.

“So when Johns Hopkins supports a disaster by letting its physicians and staff deploy, it’s also sending excellence of patient care to that zone,” Millin says. “The quality of care that we expect to be delivered in the halls of Johns Hopkins, we’re going to expect in the middle of a disaster. And that really uplifts the community that’s in need in a huge way.”

Other Johns Hopkins providers and staff deployed through outside roles in response to hurricanes during the 2018 season include emergency medicine physicians Christina Catlett and Leah Bright.

Related articles:

Johns Hopkins Experts Jump into Action after Hurricanes through Federal Roles