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Johns Hopkins Go Team Returns Home After Medical Mission in Response to Hurricanes

Members of the first wave of experts from
the Johns Hopkins Go Team's deployment
to St. John

Madeleine Whalen, a registered nurse in The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Emergency Department, had never responded to a natural disaster before. That was until she embarked on a medical mission with the Johns Hopkins Go Team to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The Go Team is a multidisciplinary team, organized by the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR), which upon receiving a formal request from a federal or local government, or other reputable nonprofit organization, can rapidly deploy to areas impacted by natural or manmade disasters to assist with urgent medical needs.

The team’s director, Christina Catlett, M.D., deployed to St. John on Sept. 17 in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the island with its 185 mph winds. A few days later, Hurricane Maria also tore through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, slamming Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Three waves of team members deployed to St. John in a six-week span to provide and support patient care. Along with Catlett and Whalen, the team also included Tammy Aungst, P.A., Robert Greenberg, M.D., Emily Kluck, P.A., Denisse Mueller, M.D., George Murray, R.N., Sara Gray Ngaothong, R.N., Sharon Owens, A.C.N.P.-B.C., Jessica Peirce, Ph.D., Marybeth Pule, R.N., and Lauren Sauer, M.S. In addition to their hands-on assistance, the team also brought much-needed supplies and medicines to the island. 

While on St. John, the team set up a clinic in a new facility after the island’s only clinic was destroyed. The team treated an average of 25 patients a day and worked to identify, stabilize and transfer patients in need of more intensive treatment to the island of St. Thomas. The most common health concerns were injuries from storm cleanup, deteriorating chronic medical conditions due to lack of medication, and mental health issues.

“I performed minor surgery, including incisions and drainage of infections and wounds, managed chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, performed school physical exams on kids so they could attend the only remaining school on the island, and recognized and triaged acute psychological decompensation triggered by the events,” Greenberg says.

Whalen recalls one memorable Spanish-speaking patient who lost her home after Hurricane Irma, and hurt her back jumping out of her house. Whalen, who speaks Spanish, was able to treat the patient after she came down with pneumonia while living in a shelter. “The patient would normally be admitted, but this wasn’t possible at the clinic,” Whalen says. “After treating her for about a week as an outpatient, she recovered from pneumonia, but she will likely have back pain for the rest of her life.”

In collaboration with an emergency medical technician in Coral Bay, team members provided medical care and mental health outreach and support to people affected by the storm on more remote parts of the island. Denisse Mueller, M.D., visited a school to review medical files of children attending the new school after the hurricane to alert school officials of medical issues and make vaccination recommendations.

The final team members returned to Maryland on Friday, Oct. 27, although team leadership continues to travel to the island to provide expertise in redevelopment.

Catlett says she was proud to work with the team. “The Johns Hopkins Go Team is so fortunate to be able to work alongside Bloomberg Philanthropies to help St. John as its citizens continue to rebuild and recuperate after two Category 5 storms,” Catlett says. “Our team was able to not only treat dozens of people a day, but also help set up a clinic so patients can continue to receive care.”

Along with the deployed members of the Go Team, she expressed gratitude for the numerous other staff members who came together from across Johns Hopkins Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University to help plan, make arrangements, procure supplies and medication and much more in order for the Go Team mission to take place.

Visit the Go Team mission update webpage for additional updates from the team’s experience on St. John.

Also, check out details from some of their service in their own words in this article.

Related stories:

Johns Hopkins Go Team on the Today Show

Bringing Calm After the Storm

Johns Hopkins Nurses Spring into Action When Disaster Strikes