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Disaster medical teams aiding LI patients

(L-R) In the command center tent, Jeff Brown,

(L-R) In the command center tent, Jeff Brown, operations section chief and Mark Gray, commander of the team from Washington, at work. (Nov. 6, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

At one point Nathaniel Moore began singing.

That was remarkable because, at the time, the 2-year-old from Freeport was getting stitches to close a deep cut on his wrist he got running into a glass door.

What was also remarkable was that Dr. Laura Fife, an emergency medicine doctor from Seattle, was sewing him up Thursday on a cot inside a MASH-like tent outside South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. A medic, Seattle firefighter Steven Castello, held a camping headlamp over the wound.

Nathaniel's grandmother, Lazetta Duncan of Freeport, said she was taken aback when she first entered the military-looking tent.

"At first I was like, 'Oh my God,' but it has been fine," she said.

The tent was one of five set up Sunday night outside the hospital by a Disaster Medical Assistance Team from the Seattle area.

The 42-member DMAT, one of four on Long Island, is a specially trained volunteer group of health care workers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who come at the request of a hospital or community for two weeks or more into a disaster area. Their mission is to provide medical care where there is none or relieve exhausted local medical staffs.

"I made a friend for life," said Janet Kahn-Scolaro, administrative director of behavioral health at South Nassau, of Lori Van Slyke, the social worker on the team.

Kahn-Scolaro said about 1,000 hospital employees remain homeless after Sandy, and Van Slyke played a critical role in helping her get them aid. "I couldn't do it without her," the director said.

Fifteen DMATs have been deployed to New York and New Jersey since Sandy ravaged the region. On Long Island, they are also posted in Long Beach, Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow and the shelter at Nassau Community College, HHS spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said.

Dr. Steven Walerstein, NUMC's chief medical officer, said the hospital's DMAT team, from Texas, has been dispersed throughout the hospital to help care for an influx of patients -- large numbers of whom have no homes to return to. "They're an extraordinarily helpful complement," he said.

For the team members, many of them disaster veterans, using their skills to help out is its own reward -- despite the 12-hour shifts and sleeping in tents.

That's how Fife, the Seattle doctor, feels.

"It's a real privilege to come and help out in some small measure," she said.

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