September 10, 2004

Vanderbilt employees to help Hurricane Frances victims

Featured Image

Vanderbilt employees, left to right, Joanne Rains, Bradley Corr, Grace Kron, Lisa Peper and Tammy Suggs are briefed in Nashville by Joe Flynn of the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. before heading to Orlando, Fla. Wednesday. Photo by Mary Donaldson

Vanderbilt employees to help Hurricane Frances victims

Five Vanderbilt University Medical Center employees arrived in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday morning ready to help those suffering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Frances.

As American Red Cross volunteers, Tammy Suggs, M.D., a PGY-3 Psychiatry resident; Joanne Rains, office manager in the General Surgery Clinic; Grace Kron, a research assistant in Pediatric Infectious Disease; Bradley Corr, a term professional in Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, and this writer, an information officer for News and Public Affairs, will be working in mass care throughout the next week. The group formed after the Red Cross put out a call for Vanderbilt volunteers last week.

“We wanted to be prepared for the hurricane, not knowing how bad it would be,” said Joe Flynn, director of Volunteer Resources for the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. “We wanted to get good people quickly, people we know and trust to serve in leadership roles in the relief efforts, so we looked to Vanderbilt.”

Through a relationship with VUMC, the Nashville Area Chapter was able to organize a group of volunteers ready to face whatever Hurricane Frances brought with it. VUMC aided the efforts by offering employees paid leave to help the victims of the disaster. The response from the Vanderbilt community was overwhelming, and the positions were filled within hours.

Suggs quickly responded to the call for volunteers.

"My immediate and extended family live in Florida, and I've seen firsthand the devastation of natural disasters on some of their homes. In fact, I have some family members who have deserted their homes this week to seek safety in community shelters,” she said. “I thought this trip would allow me the opportunity to meet people in the midst of catastrophe to assist me in understanding and empathizing with patients in similar situations in the future. I hope that I will also be available to minister to the hurricane victims in a unique way because of my own experience and training."

Vanderbilt volunteers are prepared to assist the Red Cross in a variety of capacities – from serving meals in shelters to driving Emergency Rescue Vehicles (ERVs) with supplies to families in the community.

They are also prepared to go without much sleep, air conditioning, electricity or running water, depending on the community they are sent to.

Despite the difficult working environment, volunteers considered the mission an opportunity to both serve others and gain valuable experience.

“I volunteered to go to Florida with the American Red Cross because I saw it as a fantastic opportunity for both the affected communities and myself,” Corr said.

“I am currently applying to medical schools and recognized a chance to gain experience helping people in a time of need. Volunteering, especially in disaster circumstances, is such an important and beneficial aspect of community involvement whether that community is the size of Vanderbilt or the state of Florida.”

The Vanderbilt volunteers have an idea of what they’ll be facing. They attended an all-day, crash-course training session Saturday at the Nashville chapter’s headquarters. They were trained and certified in CPR, first aid, mass care, as well as shelter operations.

Keeping the organization’s motto of “patient and flexible” in mind, the volunteers were on stand by from then on, waiting for their call to action. That call came Tuesday afternoon.

The group was told to book the first flight out Wednesday morning, to take plenty of bug spray, and be prepared to be split up and be sent to different communities depending on the level of need.

“We’re hoping this mission will be a building block for the future,” Flynn said. “We’re happy to have a partner in Vanderbilt, to serve in national disasters and local disasters when the need arises.”

As of press time, the group was still awaiting notification of their assignments andtheir work location.