JACKSON, Miss. – Jim Craig, Director of Health Protection for the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), recently returned from six weeks in the U.S. Virgin Islands helping with hospital recovery efforts following hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall.
Craig was requested by the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health (USVI DOH) to assist with a 44-day recovery assignment as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), the nation’s state-to-state mutual aid agreement. This compact establishes a national framework that allows resources to be sent across state lines following disasters. All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are EMAC members.
Craig was asked to serve as a subject matter expert in establishing temporary medical facilities to support the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health and U.S. Virgin Islands Healthcare Facilities.
“In St. Croix, due to severe damage from Hurricane Maria, assistance was needed to bring in temporary mobile operating rooms, temporary mobile dialysis units, and a temporary modular hospital to support operations at the island’s only hospital. In addition to damaged facilities, the number of current staff is nearly half of what it was before the storm. We have made an EMAC request for up to 51 nurses to be brought in over the next eight months to assist,” said Craig.
“On an island that has just one hospital, if a patient’s needs exceed the hospital’s capabilities – surgery, for instance – then the patient must be flown to another island. It’s not like riding down the road in an ambulance to the next available facility,” he said.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria, both category 5 storms that struck in September 2017, caused severe and widespread damage to the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. Hospitals on St. Croix and St. Thomas were damaged and the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John was left unusable.
In addition, the USVI DOH office suffered roof damage, and torrential rains flooded the facility. Craig worked with the team at USVI DOH to establish temporary shelters to assist with DOH clinic services. Temporary modular structures are being planned for the office’s parking areas until repair or replacement of the Health Department can be accomplished.
While recovery after any disaster is slow, Craig said the resources and knowledge supplied through EMAC is vital to the resilience of any community in helping it return to its pre-disaster state.
“We brought in incident management teams from Seattle and Vermont, food facility inspectors from Virginia to inspect all restaurants, and health recovery teams to begin planning long-term healthcare and public health services,” he said.
Just as other states contributed to Mississippi’s recovery following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Craig’s deployment gave him a firsthand view of what state-to-state disaster support could accomplish.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done, and a lot of good people committed to working on it. I was really proud to be a part of this effort,” he said.
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