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Alabama Guard Medical Team Helps Populace Locate Medical Resources

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

GAUTIER, Miss., Sept. 11, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina left two things in its wake: destruction and confusion.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Alabama National Guardsmen Capt. Jason Wells discusses available medications with fellow Guard members Capt. Sesthers Melendez, left, and Staff Sgt. Janine Pridgen. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In its aftermath, the Alabama National Guard dispatched resources to Gulf states to help remove tons of debris that state officials here say will fill 1,000 football fields, each 10 feet deep. But the Alabama National Guard is also helping remove much of the confusion too.

Alabama National Guard State Surgeon Col. John McGinnis identified a need to provide citizens with a one-stop source for medical assistance. He organized a team that assists residents here with finding medical resources in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina, an environment where mostly everything in the city has been wiped out.

"We try to hook people up with what they need," Alabama National Guard Staff Sgt. Janine Pridgen said. "Many walk in here needing doctors or shots," she said. The team then points people in the right direction or gives them what they need, if they have it in stock.

The six-person team from the 161st Area Support Medical Battalion from Mobile, Ala. established its operation in a vacant mall retail space just off of Highway 90. They are a small slice of a 52-person medical contingency that is providing health care to soldiers who are on relief operations throughout the nearby Pascagoula, Miss., area. Many of the contingent's ambulance teams are at distribution sites.

"We wanted to be centralized so people could find us," Pridgen said. "Everyone is so thankful that we're here to help," she said.

The assessment team serves as a liaison. The team finds medical suppliers and providers and connects those in need with those who can provide goods and services. They also stock some donated medical items.

Pridgen is an immunizations nurse at Fort Rucker, Ala., in her civilian career. While in uniform, she is a mental-health noncommissioned officer. She said both positions likely had something to do with her being placed on the assessment team.

Thus far the team has coordinated many transactions like the donation of free medications to those with a valid prescription. Team members have located much-needed oxygen tanks for an elderly patient. They found an optometrist who will provide free glasses to those who lost theirs in the storm and delivered a nebulizer, a device that puts medicine into a vapor to be inhaled, to a family who needed one for a child. They have also issued medical durable goods like walkers and wheelchairs.

The team had helped 75 people by Sept. 9, after being in operation only five days. Providers are now stepping forward to ensure the team is aware that their medical services are available.

"Our team has gone out into the community and found resources to help the clientele here," physician assistant Capt. Sesthers Melendez said.

The team, all from the Alabama Army National Guard, also has food and water available for those seek their services.

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Related Sites:
Alabama National Guard
Military Support in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

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