Category Archives: New Jersey (NJ) NJ
NewPublicHealth has been conducting a series of interviews with health directors impacted by weather disasters this year. Last month marked the official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic. We recently spoke with Mary O’Dowd, health commissioner of New Jersey, which is continuing its recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy last fall.
>>Read our interview with Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline on the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma this summer.
NewPublicHealth: How far along are you in the recovery process?
Mary O’Dowd: One of the things that we’ve learned is that recovery takes years not months when you’re dealing with a disaster of the proportion that Superstorm Sandy was for New Jersey. I would say that we’ve made significant progress. Some communities have very little signs of Sandy left, others are still working to rebuild a significant amount of their property and they’re still in the process of demolition of damaged buildings and properties. Great strides have been made, much progress has already occurred, but there still is a lot of work yet to be done.
NPH: What are some of the public health endeavors you’re still engaged in for the response?
Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the East Coast last fall, with sea communities in New York and New Jersey such as Ocean County bearing a disproportionate share of the damage. In Ocean County alone, 40,000 buildings were damaged by the storm’s monstrous gusts and floodwaters and the county suffered nearly half the damage recorded throughout New Jersey, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
>>A new video produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about the public health response to Hurricane Sandy features health department officials including Dan Regenye, coordinator of the Ocean County Public Health Department, and New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd. Watch the video:
For more than a week after the storm ended, more than 250 employees of the public health department worked day and night to help the county’s 576,000 residents. The county provided medical needs sheltering for more than 1,000 residents, three times the number expected. And many shelters that housed displaced residents were also able to shelter their pets–a critical need for many people who might not have evacuated otherwise.
This week at the annual Public Health Preparedness Summit hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Ocean County Health Department will present a poster on response to and recovery from disaster. Follow NewPublicHealth coverage of the conference and other preparedness news.
In advance of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dan Regenye.
NewPublicHealth: How is your community doing?
Dan Regenye: I think it’s going to take a long time for total recovery to happen, and the reality is that it’s never going to be what it was. Some things will be better, some things will be worse. Our residents are dealing with their own personal issues and circumstances on a case-by-case basis. I think it’s the navigation part that’s so difficult for so many people between all the different agencies—local, state and federal—and private organizations. They need to look at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) maps and have to interact with insurers, contractors and others. It’s challenging.
NPH: What is the health department’s role in the recovery?
Just two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit, the State of New Jersey held a Response Roundtable at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune Township, N.J., to begin a review of the health department’s response to the storm. The site was an appropriate one: in the first few days of the Sandy, the medical center’s emergency room treated close to 2,000 patients with storm-related medical and mental health emergencies. A key roundtable participant was Nicole Lurie, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Leading the discussion was New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd.
Critical responses by the health department have included:
- A Department of Health hotline, opened within days of the storm, and staffed with public health experts who answer questions on mold cleanup, food safety, and drinking water concerns. The public can reach the hotline either through the state's 2-1-1 system or by calling 1-866-234-0964.
- The New Jersey Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is coordinating statewide efforts to help individuals and communities manage the emotional impact of the storm, and offers assistance through a toll-free Disaster Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-294-HELP (4357); a TTY line is available for persons who are deaf and hearing impaired at 1-877-294-4356.
- The New Jersey Medical Reserve Corps (NJMRC) program is comprised of health care professionals and community health volunteers from across the state. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Department has received many inquiries from people looking to volunteer in New Jersey's response and recovery efforts," says O'Dowd. Every county is the state has at least one MRC unit, and all 25 NJMRC units have been active during the response and recovery efforts, according to O’Dowd. Volunteers have been serving at shelters across the state, have helped staff hotlines and have distributed food and water in local communities. New Jersey was the first state to have an MRC in every county.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approved the New Jersey health department’s request to ensure access to prescription medications to uninsured residents affected by the storm through its Emergency Prescription Assistance Program. The program provides access, at any enrolled pharmacy, to necessary prescription drugs and some medical equipment for individuals in a federally-identified disaster area who don’t have health insurance.
- The Department has also assisted local and county health departments who were impacted by the storm. Many health department offices and facilities faced flooding, power outages, water shortages, wastewater concerns and communication difficulties. The state health department’s field staff has assisted with, among other issues, shelter and retail food inspections, in the weeks after the storm.