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Interview with medical clinic volunteers

Interviewees: Three medical clinic volunteers on Coney Island
Interviewer: Shelly Ronen
01/04/2013

Q:         So how long have you been working? w\What kind of involvement have you had?

A1:        Me and Justin have been here since November 4th,  November 5th.

Q:        And what was it like in the beginning, how does it start, and how does it develop?  I’m just interested in hearing a little bit about how it got started and what’s been going on since it started.

A:1        Well, when we first got here the phone power was out.  There was — many of the homes were still underwater, basements flooded.  You could see destruction everywhere from cars up on fences, backed into each other.  People were starting to clean out their own house.  Meanwhile, there was no electricity, water, heat, or elevators working in any of the high rises as in public housing subsidized housing.  So at night, it was very dark — very dark.  That’s kind of, what I looked like when we got here.

Q:        And how did this particular operation get up and running, what was behind that?

A1:        When we got here, we were dispatched out here to help start a clinic at [xxx] then we started on the pews.  And then we kind of moved to the pulpit.  And then this —

Q:        You graduated up to the pulpit.

A1:        The American dream.  And then this was brought here by a church in Joplin, Missouri this was the tornado relief.  So they delivered this here and we’ve been here ever since as far as the free clinic I think.  So when we first got here we were working on both making house calls and to meet the needs of people who were homebound unable to leave the floors essentially that need medication of course some type of medical assistance.  And we were also sustaining the [inaudible 2:54].

A2:        The main health infirmity got here so that like, if people who were sick or frail or homebound on like the 20th floor and the elevator is broken so like, there’s no way they can get up and down 20 flights of stairs.  We worked with so many great folks. People mobilized a lot of volunteers and actually canvased like, the whole neighborhood about 60,000 Coney Island proper knocking on every door.  In order like, when they identified medical needs or homebound folks, they would give us a call and we would provide our own care to go climb the stairs and make house calls to folks.  Checking on someone or going around making prescriptions.  We evacuated some people to like, the hospital if people needed to go.  So that was — the main concern like when we got here was people dying on the up on the 20th floor because there’s no one checking on them and they can’t get down?  You know since then the power has come back in all the high raises if not all the private homes.  So that’s — that hasn’t been a concern for a while now.  The main concern is just in the lack of primary healthcare resources at the hospital it’s the most we shut down and it’s starting to open back up now, but like when we got here pretty much all the doctor’s offices and clinics were closed, so just kind of filling that gap.

Q:        What sort of numbers of people have you been seeing like how has that changed since you’ve been out here?  How many people do you see a day roughly?

A1:        It’s really been up and down.  I think that like dueling forces in terms of our patient flow.  Like, every day could be like whatever but the trends are like one the one-hand offices are opening back up, doctor’s offices.  Some people are going back to their primary docs.  At the same time like, word about us has gotten out more.  So people who don’t have that option are coming here more, so it’s like there is no real trend in patient flow.

A2:        Trend — there’s really no trend.  It fluctuates.

Q:        Have you been seeing many of the same people though pretty consistently?

A1:        I would say so.  We see probably just as many new patients as we do people who have here before.  I would say that was a pretty straight assumption.

A2:        Yeah, I would say maybe more new patients.  We don’t have any kind of advanced capability so it’s not like someone can come and we can be like, fixing blood and like, new labs and having checked back in and then come up with a treatment option.  Like, we can’t do stuff like that.  A lot of the stuff we do is one or two visits type of patient.  If they need more advanced continued care we have to refer them. It’s not like there’s  much we can do in a metal box.

Q:        So what can you work with them?

A2:        Basic primary healthcare needs.  We can monitor people’s blood pressure.  We can take care of URI’s.  We have some minimal diagnostic stuff in terms of pregnancy tests.  We can treat asthma here.

Q:        And flu shots?

A2:        And flu shots and Tetanus shots.

Q:         We’re interested in knowing what some of the shortcomings to response have and also what some are the fantastic outcomes have been.  Do you have — what is your opinion of  how well you’ve been provided with what you need?

A1:        Well, shortcomings of response is the — I mean the timing of response by government agencies — an agency like, American Red Cross.  I think — and it’s been admitted that the response will always be too slow.  So what we’ve seen is people pulling together to help each other out.  The people are the response.  They are the first responders in any disaster I think.  We can’t wait — we can’t wait on the government.  You’ll see people pulling together and helping each other out.  And I think that goes a long way within their own recovery.

Q:        So moving forward in the future, what do you think needs to happen between now and kind of ideal date of which we can say okay, we’re covered.  What needs to happen between now and then?

A1:        I mean recovery is a loaded word when you’re talking about places that have been screwed over by the institutions like, Coney Island.  Like, the city never gave a crap about Coney beforehand so like, there’s not going to be a point where like, you come up and say like, all right like, now the recovery is just like, finished and it’s good.  You’ve got like, 60,000 people living in high-rise housing projects without adequate services whether it is like, healthcare services or sanitation services or like, you know clean the water pipe the water is shitty.

A2:        Healthy food.

A1:        Yeah.  So I mean there’s not like, we’re not talking about like, lower Manhattan that got flood out where it is like, the lights will come back on they’ll fix up the businesses, utilities will be restored, people will get back in they’ll make their pay and like, everything will look at them like things will be good.  I don’t think you can say that about like, Coney or the Rockaways, you know.  Like, places that have been getting screwed over for a long time and they are going to keep getting screwed over.  It’s just like, you can say like, when are the acute issues fixed.  The acute issue of like, people living on the 20th floor without power and elevators is mostly fixed in all but a few cases.  The acute issue of there being like, not a single doctor’s office or pharmacy open on [Murray] Avenue like, that sort of fits to some extent.  Like, there are now things that are open.  But in terms of like, the broader, deeper issues like, they are not going to be fixed.

A2:        [Inaudible 9:49] laws you have to go.

A1:        There was only laundry available.  All the high rises have their own laundry room they call the flood room.  [Inaudible 10:00].

A2:        And they’ll take cabs to get their laundry washed.  And there’s some elderly people can’t get out they do it themselves and the handicap patients because the elevator [inaudible 10:20].

Q:        Yeah.  So you’ve already alluded to some of the differences I guess between the experience here and the experience like in lower Manhattan or other places.  Do you have any other sense of how the experience here was different from other places affect or New York in general?

A1:        I think devastation across the East Coast is obviously much greater — much more extensive than the amount of destruction is much greater so it is harder to rebuild — rebuild houses in a day because Staten Island or any place on the coast it’s gotten really flooded and destroyed.  It takes many months and put in a lot of time individuals repairing their own house goes at an even slower place.  I think that city governments agencies responding dealing with the immediate needs.  A lot of this is going to go on for a long time.  And the congress isn’t going to fund it so it’s going to be that much longer.

A2:        And there’s also like structural issues they are different because they have to do with like the emergency response and the speed of response.  For example, we’ve been talking about here in Coney Island how a large portion I don’t know if it’s a majority or not is public housing, high risers.  There’s a lot of private high risers but a lot of it is public housing.  And for example, New York Cares which is the biggest volunteer sort of umbrella organization in New York.  New York Cares volunteers, Red Cross volunteers, FEMA volunteers — none of these people are allowed to go into [inaudible 12:15] projects without a police escort because of bullshit prejudice whatever like, whatever you want to do with it.

So if you’re talking about volunteers coming down here immediately afterwards even the EMT’s like, they by their bylaws of the organizations they can’t go in there without a police officer.  I’m like NYP does not have like, a $1,000 for us to spare to escort everybody up the stairs.  So like, when we first got down here like, the only people who were going were like, independent volunteers, you know.  So that’s like, kind of a different [inaudible 12:52] versus here.  Manhattan I’ll do like, personal and workers can just go into the high risers or whatever and like, help out.  I don’t know if they did anything because I never worked in Manhattan.  There’s like, issues of structure, class, and race that affect the immediate response.  So like the longer-term response analogy of funding and the scenario before the storm.

Q:        Can spell that out for me like, the issues of race and class in particular and we’re really interested response agenda.  What is your assessment of like, what –?

A1:        I think the example I just gave you is a good one.

Q:        The racial prejudice.

A1:        The emergency response and like, they are not allowed to go into [inaudible 13:16] without a police escort.  But I think it’s also worth thinking about and we saw this with Katrina too, the responses and how fast and comprehensive a response is has to do with who is being affect.  And we can talk about why the response to Katrina was so inept and why prior responses to storms in wealthier, whiter parts of the country have been a lot faster and more effective.  We can talk about why the lights were back on in Manhattan in days and why it took weeks in Coney Island and months in parts of the Rockaways.  These things aren’t consciences.   And it is also not a consciences like, the areas that are most vulnerable to storms and the farthest away from the city and the farthest away from resources have been populated due to public housing with poor people of the county.   None, of this is an accident, you know.

Q:        What about dimensions in gender like, what would you say about [inaudible 14:43] whether people who are affected or people who are volunteering.  Do you think there’s any dimensions of gender or is mostly just race, and class?

A1:        I don’t know that I would say there aren’t dimensions of gender but I don’t feel that I can really speak to that.

Q:        That’s cool.  Yeah.  As woman volunteering —

A1:        So far [inaudible 15:06] a good turnover when they volunteer.  I really can’t complain.   [Inaudible 15:15] of coming here and volunteer.

Q:        That’s great.

A1:        To help out.  So also [inaudible 15:20] volunteer come out to help out in the outside with clothes and food and stuff also.  So I can’t really complaint sort of things that have been happening.  And I can’t complaint about these two here, which if I could, but I won’t.  Also pretty good [inaudible 15:44] I really hate to see this end.  I don’t know, I think I’ll just take off too.  What you think?  The response of these two I really have to give them credit for being men.  Because you know men are a little bit slower getting their hands into something than women are.  So I’m really have to take my hat off.  They are here, they care about you know and they understand [inaudible 16:31].  We’ve never been in anything like this here.  [Inaudible 16:39] did that and so volunteer is just part of my job I was trained at.

A3:        Yeah, before I [inaudible 17:18] just happened to be a nurse, RN just happened to be Red Cross also for training.  I did it all for being my age.

Q:        You look great, what are you 29?

A3:        I should knock you down.  You know when you’ve been there and did that it don’t amaze you just you thank god.  I thank god for the man’s fancy cheese, without him none of us wouldn’t of been here.  Now, he made a way for these people to come out enough a doc at his young age and travel come back and forth to help out.  And when you stop and think about it a lot of these people have been through a lot, they have seen a whole lot, and they lost a whole lot.  And some of them will never get it back.  Some with never get what they lost.  I don’t think they’ll never forget.  The most important thing is to try to take care of one another and thank god that we still alive.  That he saved our lives.  Without these two doctors and the rest of us here and the people that come to here every day they should look back and say what a job they did and they did it well.  As long as you do it from your heart that’s all that’s important.  Thank god, gave us the knowledge to do what we are doing.

Q:        This is really important thank you all for doing it.

A3:        But these two they get on my nerves.

A1:        That’s what we are here for.

A3:        Where do you go to school?

Q:        I’m at NYU yeah, getting a PhD there in sociology.   There’s a whole team of us and we’re spanning out and doing interviews with who’s affected, first responders, also policy activists.  And we’re interested in kind of looking at how the different narratives the way

that people talk about what’s going on here are going to shape the future of what happens in

response.

A3:        I’ll be doing this, but I hope to get your secret.  Most important give these young people something to look back at and think about as they grow up say look where I came from nowhere because some of them wasn’t born when it happened.  And some were just getting born.  And just stop and think about it how god really brought everything, you know he does things for a reason.  He do things for out of the season and that’s the only think I can think what [inaudible 20:42] houses.  That’s the biggest thing that they lost and you know loose so much.  We have to lose to gain.  And I hope those who did lose I hope they gain more than they lost.  Because once you look back and start to tell your kids and grandkids then they have something to feel how good god is, you know he do everything you too.

Q:        I hope so.

A3:        And he don’t do nothing but stop we all should get some from this.

Q:        Especially, for the people who have lost a lot like you mentioned people who lost everything, what sort of mental health — are you all equipped to assist with and what sorts of resources are available to people?  I mean I just can’t even image the degree of devastation and trauma that people have endured.

A3:        We are not well equipped.  We do have some resources, but that is the hugest challenge is reaching out to people and then reaching back and to help them out to try to prevent PTSD or something that is, you know can be — is really devastating.  We try to address that to each concern it’s a challenge and always has been.  There are some folks that are well equipped that are working on it.  It’s a challenge.  It’s hard I mean some people are open and want to talk about their experiences, what they are going through and some people do not.  Most of us are strangers, anyway.

A1:        Even when we’ve had like, people who say they want to see a counselor and we try to [inaudible 23:06].

A3:        I can say for myself, the first day I looked out of my window and so I didn’t know it was this bad and saw people putting stuff out I just thought maybe just some got damage.  Didn’t realize the water had came all the way up in their house and that’s when I really broke down.  I couldn’t forget how they — well, where was I.  I’m in the house here because we were in for a week.  I was in for a week before I come outside because no elevator.  And then when I did come out I almost passed out.  My knees went out and I thought I hope there’s some life beyond the elevator people.  And then the elevator people were working I was scared to ride it.  It was a week before I got in the elevator.  I had to hold on for dear life.  They said come go down stairs and then come up.  I had to take all of my food out of my refrigerator and that was a hurting thing.  To see all this money going down the drain.  I mean a box of food — meat all types you had to throw out and that you never get over.  People are going to remember that.  Honest to god, the food that other people could use that I had for other people to help out with and had to throw it out.  And that was I think that hurt people more than anything else their cars, they lost their house.  I know some good friends of mine lost her vehicles and her house.  Then she lost her husband.  And she comes in here and I never heard that lady as long as I know her complain and he’s hurting.  And I have to [inaudible 24:49] and I had to go down the street telling people stop picking up all the stuff the store threw out.  Because the water didn’t come from the sky it either came from the ocean, the sewer, and everywhere.  When you walk down the street you see the devastation of the people’s houses.  They don’t have no ground underneath these houses.  Underneath there is nothing but a shell.  They have to pump the stuff from there underneath concrete underneath these houses.  You could stand under those houses and wouldn’t even touch it.  I was proud of this building.  I was working on this building [inaudible 25:43] she wasn’t married then.  And her father and I worked together on these houses that they built up.  And that’s what hurt me so back to see something that I worked hard on to go like, this here.  And I don’t think no one know how I really feel, but one man and he looked [inaudible 26:08] well, you know he built this world and can destroy this world and he always can put it back together again.  But it’s up to us to really learn how to live among one another and he’ll build this world back together because one person can’t do it all.  Sean [inaudible 26:33] he comes all the way from nowhere to here and he’s running every day.  But he can’t do it by himself the one thing he can give is knowledge and his knowhow.  And that’s the only thing I can do and it’s the only thing she can do — all of us can do what we know how to do best and give what the lord has gave us and what we have got out of book learning from college and different places.  But we first have to trust god ourselves before we can even take in anybody else.  We have to ask god to bless us so we can help.

Q:        Thank you.

A3:        I think one thing that is really important as far as the future or even for this area and this storm is as far as policy — changing policy, making things — besides our planned response is tend to prevent these vultures, investors coming in wanting to change the landscape place the people that live in this area.  We haven’t seen that here yet.  I think it is a concern that is in the works and has been in the works before the storm.  And this devastation by natural disasters could be — all but some of them need, you know them to open the floodgates of investments, displacements, justification, and just re-doing the whole entire area.

Q:        Right.

A3:        I think people just need to have that in their minds because it is real.  What people need here is free healthcare.

Q:        Leadership as well.

A3:        People need to have their resources to be able to help themselves or need healthy food, clean water, clean air, a good education just like everybody needs.  And I think areas we got hit by a natural disaster need more so.  I think it should be a priority to help people recover faster, better and keep these vultures from coming in and changing everything.

Q:        Totally, yeah, I think you’re right.

A3:        Let’s ask the lord for everybody health.  A lot of people can’t afford to go to the doctor.  And they wait — they can’t wait.  They can’t wait.  They are out here at 7:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night.  And if it wasn’t for these two here, I don’t know what they would do.  That’s the honest god.  We still have to tell these people Sean — we don’t have money.  And I don’t think — I don’t know how they are getting along in their houses or how they are paying rent or whatnot.  They say this — we don’t have money to get some more [inaudible 31:17] still you have money to go and buy a box Kleenex.  They are coming in asking for gloves to keep their hands warm.  They don’t have nothing to go and some don’t have money to buy Christmas toys with.  Sean — thank god for his thinking us having any toys [inaudible 31:37] to put under the tree for Christmas.  We have to stop and given them to the kids.  These are from the adults.  And I don’t have any to open.  These kids have nothing for Christmas and you know Christmas belongs to kids and Easter.  And I said I got to start all over.  And he won’t even be here.  I’m not talking to him no either.  He’s going to be helping me out for Easter.

Q:        Oh, yeah, temporary.  You won’t be here for Easter, is that what you said?

A2:        I’m leaving on the 13th.

Q:        Okay, where to just another —

A2:        I’m going to school and then I’m going home.

Q:        What kind of school in conneticut?

A1:        St. Anthony.

Q:        Okay.  So you mentioned briefly the idea that sort of the response to natural disasters should be like, a strong response for the people, yeah.  What’s your sense, are people talking about natural disasters and climate change?  How that is changed what people are talking about what to expect kind of similar disasters in the future.

A2:        I don’t know.  People are definitely talking about it.  One question I had whenever there was the long gas lanes and all the pharmacies were shut down what the hell are they going to do when there isn’t any more gasoline or pharmaceuticals coming in.  What are people going to do then?  That’s what I really think about.  Especially with the gasoline and the pharmaceuticals what are we going to do when they are not coming back?  We often think about that.  I mean I think —

A1:        If they’re even positive to like institutional response I think it’s that everyone knows that this isn’t going to be the last storm like that.  We’re just creating some issues now like, for example, they should or one to their credit is not like, rebuilding their generators in the basement where they are going to flood again.  Coney Island Hospital Clinic a couple of blocks from here they are not rebuilding in that location because it’s backed up right against the creek and it’s going to flood again.  So I think like, there is like, some sort of conscious thing that like —

Q:        That this might happen again.

A1:        This is going to be like, the last time something like this happens.  Some smaller steps are being taken so things don’t go down exactly the same way.

Q:        Right.  But those are all preventatives assuming the flooding is going to stay the same.

A1:        Right, exactly.

Q:        Are people talking about [inaudible 34:29], capital trade issues or is it mostly just kind of like this scale of an elephant.

A1:        I haven’t heard people talk about that.

Q:        No.

A1:        Yeah, it’s been more —

Q:        Local level?

A1:        Yeah, local level definitely.  As far as what I’ve heard just asking people in the neighborhood.  It’s got to be on people’s mind.  And I’ve heard people talk about, you know the climate is changing and it definitely is.  How prepared people will be for the next one who knows.  I think people will be more prepared.

A2:        I think from a medical standpoint people don’t understand what it is that can be done besides to address the global warming issues.  And that’s why we look to sort of experts, government, and people with some expertise and knowledge to help work through those things.  I don’t think people on the street are really equipped to know how to address this.  Not the level that some point you need to get involved because we need to change our behavior in terms of how those solutions —

Q:        At the state level that’s different for country, you know global.  Okay.  Thank you so much.

[Tape off]

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