Huntington nurses lend a hand to Harvey victims

Huntington nurses lend a hand to Harvey victims

Huntington Hospital volunteers pose with MD Anderson Cancer Center nurses in Houston. Photos from Meghan Billia

Huntington nurses went to work and rolled up their sleeves to help out the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Three Huntington Hospital nurses stepped forward to answer a call for aid from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Texas hospital had put out a nationwide request for volunteer nurses to provide relief for their own staff members impacted by the storm.

“I got into nursing because I wanted to help people,” Meghan Billia, an oncology nurse at Huntington Hospital, said. “When you hear there’s a greater scale on which you can help people, it feels like something you should do.”

Billia, of Huntington, stepped up for the first time as she knew firsthand the havoc that storm and flooding could wreak on one’s personal life. She had lived on the South Shore of Long Island when Hurricane Sandy hit Oct. 22, 2012.

ER nurse Demetrios Papadopoulos, of Bellmore, traveled to Houston from Sept. 9 to 16 with Billia.

“When I got down there, the first thing I asked was if I could work every day,” he said. “Houston is a lovely city, but I’ll go down another time to see it.”

Papadopoulos said he learned that roughly 70 percent of the employees of MD Anderson had been affected in some way by the storm. To further add to its problem, the Houston hospital had been forced to cancel approximately 300 surgeries scheduled the week that Harvey hit.

Meghan Billia stands with co-worker and friend at MD Anderson. Photos from Meghan Billia

“They were adding on 100 cases a week in order to catch back up,” Papadopoulos said. “In addition to being understaffed, they were overbooked.”

The volunteers were given a one-day crash course on MD Anderson’s computer systems then immediately scheduled to work up to 12-hour shifts. By taking over Houston nurses’ schedules, Huntington Hospital’s staff was providing much-needed time for them to file insurance claims on flooded homes, begin ripping out damaged floors and sheetrock, and grieve the death of loved ones.

“We were covering nurses who were affected by the hurricane personally,” Billia said. “It’s not often you get to go somewhere and help other nurses. You usually go to help the patient. This was helping the staff and giving back to fellow nurses.”

While rolling up their sleeves and putting in long hours at the hospital, the volunteers also said it turned out to be an unexpected learning experience.

“There are parts of MD Anderson that are highly specialized,” Papadopoulos said. “I got to see what they have and what they are capable of. They had a few ideas that I hope to bring back here.

MD Anderson is nationally ranked as the No. 1 hospital for adult cancer treatment by U.S. News & World Report.

Billia said working in oncology she learned about a different style of IV pump and equipment that allows chemotherapy to be administered differently to cancer
patients. She brought a sample product back to Huntington Hospital for staff members to review and discuss.

Both first-time volunteers said they were surprised, and nearly overwhelmed, by the appreciation and gratitude of MD Anderson’s staff. Papadopoulos said Houston staff members attempted to take him out to dinner on his last night in the city, while Billia was given a few small presents for her hard work including a T-shirt.

A third nurse who volunteered, Shaneel Blanchard, could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Gerard Brogan Jr., the executive director of Huntington Hospital, said he fully supported the actions of his employees taking time to volunteer in Texas.

“I’m very proud of our dedicated staff who went down to Houston to help the people
affected by Hurricane Harvey,” Brogan said in a statement. “As a hospital that turned into a community resource during Hurricane Sandy with caregivers who constantly go above and beyond for their patients, it’s not surprising that our staff would feel compelled to help people whenever they can.”

Billia and Papadopoulos said they have both stayed in touch with those they met while volunteering. Papadopoulos hopes to make a trip down once the city has recovered, while Billia is keeping in touch via text messages.

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