By Luz Figueroa, Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals
Following the massive destruction from Hurricane Sandy, Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP) volunteers joined with residents of affected areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens to form the ad hoc Disaster Relief Health Impact Committee (DRHIC) to act on both the immediate and long-term impact that a disaster of this magnitude has on the health and well-being of residents already battered by the daily economic disaster of job losses and government cuts to health care programs. Volunteers and resources are urgently needed to continue our ongoing disaster relief efforts in the coming weeks and months.
The Church of the Holy Redeemer at 2424 Linden Blvd. has played a critical role in the DRHIC since its inception, providing a staging area for unloading, inventory and distribution of tons of donated food, bottled water, cleaning and sanitary supplies, construction materials, and other disaster relief assistance thanks to the generosity of congregations and individuals who learned of our independent, all-volunteer efforts. Members of Church of the Holy Redeemer, including Emma Speaks and Dr. Herman Ambris, have participated weekly in DRHIC’s distributions of supplies and other relief activities.
Since 1973, CCMP has built a free-of-charge preventive medical benefit involving volunteer physicians, dentists and other medical professionals, as a means to demonstrate that medical care can be provided regardless of ability to pay, while building a longer-term fight for comprehensive medical care as a right.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, CCMP volunteers began calls and visits to check on merchants, professionals and other CCMP participants whose offices or homes were located in areas suffering the greatest devastation. As a consequence, initial DRHIC volunteer crews did visits and supply distributions to Staten Island, Coney Island, and the Rockaways. CCMP’s regular free-of-charge General Medical Sessions expanded to include disaster victims met through DRHIC community outreach who requested to see a doctor.
CCMP soon learned of storm and flood victims right in the neighborhood of its office in Canarsie, and Emma Speaks involved members of her own family who arranged the first distribution of supplies in Canarsie at the Bayview Community Center, on December 22. Of the 19 requests filled that day for supplies consisting of bottled water, cleaning and hygiene supplies, 13 households complained of recurring mold infestations in the Bayview Housing Units.
Graduate students from the Long Island University Public Health program joined DRHIC, along with students from CCNY, Hunter College, members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and other volunteers, in door-to-door canvassing on East 101 St. in Canarsie, filling requests for emergency supplies and documenting the need for mold abatement and other home repairs.
CCMP and DRHIC’s disaster relief work led to an invitation to join community meetings in January called by the Deputy Borough President representing Canarsie. As a result, DRHIC has developed an information and referral relationship with other independent organizations willing to assist in repair work necessary to render homes habitable. DRHIC is also calling on the city to demand federal disaster relief accountability and for immediate allocation of the $50 billion in federal disaster relief funds in the face of the widespread mold infestation problem that some health experts indicate may pose the greatest general public health threat in the history of New York City.
In coming weeks, CCMP and DRHIC will be organizing health information sessions by experts on proper mold abatement procedures and will continue to canvass storm-stricken neighborhoods and conduct follow up advocacy and collection and distribution of needed supplies.
CCMP urgently needs volunteers to join in door-to-door canvassing, benefit casework and advocacy, driving, organizing collections of needed supplies and a variety of other activities. All volunteers received on-the-job training in all organizing skills.
CCMP desperately needs a donated, good-running vehicle to replace its vehicle destroyed by the storm. Funds to cover additional expenses of transportation, postage, as well as heating and maintenance of its 7-day-a-week operations at its central office are also needed. Please call 718-469-5817 if you can help or need help.
Disaster Relief Health Impact Committee Needs List
High protein canned goods and non-perishable foods: tuna, salmon, chicken, sardines, beans, brown rice, soups, whole-wheat pasta
Baby food and formula, cribs, strollers, diapers, baby wipes
Water resistant down coats
Water resistant, mold resistant sheet rock
Flashlights & batteries
Tyvec hazmat suits
Personal Protective Equipment: respirator masks, suits, gloves
Washing machines and dryers