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Facing the Aftermath

by Drs. David and Janet Kim
Today's Christian Doctor - Spring 2013

The date was October 26, 2012, and Hurricane Sandy was headed toward New York City. But as the founders of Beacon Christian Community Health Center, New York State’s first state-supported, federally qualified community health center, we were prepared. We knew the drill: prepare supplies; get staff phone numbers ready for emergency communication; get patient lists in the event we lose power and need to reach our patients; and move equipment off the ground in case of flooding. We were trained to handle times like these. After all, we had endured Hurricane Irene just a little over a year before with little damage or disruption of business. “The last hurricane was nothing; this one should be fine,” many said.

We thought we were prepared to handle whatever came our way. But the storm barreling toward us was far worse that anyone could have prepared for or predicted. And our health clinic was situated in the middle of its path.

Bracing for Impact

At Beacon, we serve a diverse, underserved population of Mariners Harbor in Staten Island and the surrounding areas. We help our patients and community to improve their health, independence and self-identity, as part of our mission to share the Good News of Jesus in word and deed to the community.

As we went into the weekend, the weather forecasts were worse than we originally thought. We stayed open longer to handle an increased patient load, even moving up appointments in anticipation of the storm. On Sunday, October 28, the wind and rain worsened as the day progressed. Evacuation orders started coming, but most people were not aware of the instructions.

Weathering the Storm

When Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey on Monday, October 29, its hurricane-force winds devastated the local area. The storm surge hit New York City, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. It was a super storm of mammoth proportions, now labeled as the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record as it affected 24 states and caused more than $63 billion in damage. After the storm abated, millions were left without power, thousands were displaced from their homes and more than 200 were dead. Of those who died in New York City, half of them lived on Staten Island.

Throughout the night of the storm, we received text messages from friends who were witnessing the flooding in the South Beach area, one of the hardest hit areas of Staten Island. We heard about streets turning into rivers with cars floating down them. People needed to be rescued using boats and canoes. Our own home lost power as well, and we wondered how the health center was doing. What would happen to our vaccines if power was lost? Was there any flooding or other damage to the facility? As we imagined the awful possibilities, we tried to remember Psalm 29:10-11, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” This was our trust and hope during the storm, because all we could do was pray and trust in Him.

Facing the Aftermath

The day after the storm, we started to figure out how to get reopened during the acute recovery phase. Our center had endured the storm with little damage but we had no electricity, phones or internet connection. How could we open without any power? We asked God to open the necessary doors to provide for our needs, while also using us to meet the needs of our community.

Even without power, we opened the center two days after the storm and started providing emergency triage care. Using ambient light, we converted our waiting room into temporary treatment rooms. Courtesy of a donation by AmeriCares, we received a mobile medical van for the first week after the storm that doubled our exam room space. Despite their own struggles and family concerns, our staff members reported to work to help provide care to patients coming in to seek assistance and medical services. To the best of our ability, we tried to provide care in a way of showing that Christ was present.

When our power came back on four days later, we truly started seeing the destruction on Staten Island. What we saw was unbelievable, with the damage rivaling what the world saw after the tsunami in Japan and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The destruction was tremendous, the needs were great and the resources were so few. Along with countless others, we were struggling and it felt like we weren’t getting any assistance or help. During those first few days, what was most disturbing was the apparent lack of church presence and involvement for our community. Maybe we were just frustrated over the situation; maybe we couldn’t see the work that others were doing. Nevertheless, we just didn’t see the church helping. And times like this are when the hurting need to see the love of Christ lived out in front of them. (Due to the vastness of Staten Island and limited communication networks available for the first couple of weeks after the storm, it took quite a while for us to see and hear of the mobilization efforts by local churches and Christian organizations.)

So many people didn't think that the storm could be as bad as it was. Many did not evacuate when they were told to do so and paid the price with their lives. As we started praying for God to open doors for us to go where the needs were, we started working with our local emergency management officials to become a triage site for the worst hit areas on the eastern section of the island. Despite the little infrastructure to mobilize a public health intervention, we also put together a point of distribution for tetanus and flu vaccinations for the hard hit areas.

And then offers of help started pouring in from our fellow CMDA members and local churches. Beginning the first weekend after the storm, we set up relief operations working with the Staten Island Evangelical Association and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Volunteers from New York City and upstate New York contacted us to see what they could do to help. It was amazing to see the body of Christ come together from all over the city and offer their assistance without any regard for their own safety or comfort. Just to know that there were brothers and sisters in the church and CMDA who were quick to act and respond to provide help to the hardest hit areas was so amazing.

We led weekend outreach efforts throughout November, mobilizing volunteer medical professionals, students and nurses; providing flu and tetanus shots; and performing medical triage and first aid services for relief workers. People who were reluctant to open their homes to strangers slowly accepted the help being offered to them. Our teams of volunteer workers were there not just to help clean out homes; they were also there to listen and hear their stories.

One story was about a local resident who was about to run out of insulin and couldn’t get in touch with his endocrinologist to get a refill on his medications. His home was flooded and he had no power, so he was calling from a nearby coffee shop, using its electricity to charge up his phone and use the internet. His persistence helped to connect him to our health center. When he came in for a visit, he shared that his copays for medications were higher than he could afford, even with health insurance. He was waiting for his social security check and had just enough money to get gas to come see us at the clinic. We enrolled him in our program to help get his medications at an affordable cost—one that he could afford right now while waiting for his next check. We had an opportunity to pray with him, encouraging him to stay strong for him and his family. We also gave him some donated cleaning supplies to share with his neighbors. This one encounter caused a ripple effect of blessings towards others in his family and his neighborhood.

The openness and willingness for people to accept help as well as to share about their recent experiences gave many of our team members the opportunity to pray with people who just experienced a traumatic event. During this time, our prayer was that our community would see and know that our God is near and has not left us during this time.

Seeing the Fruits

The weeks turned into months and recovery still continues. The health center is back to normal operations. The initial adrenaline we experienced faded as we started to feel the stretch of maintaining and running the health center in addition to providing disaster relief. Pray for us as a health center as we seek God’s will and plan for us in ongoing disaster relief while we continue to maintain our daily operations. We also ask you to join us in praying that the seeds of His gospel and love planted during the initial outpouring of volunteers and outreach efforts will continue to take root and yield fruit in due season. Pray that hearts will continue to be softened toward Christ without a root of bitterness.

As our community attempts to rebuild and recover from catastrophe, our needs continue to be great. Many areas are still without power and basic utilities. Please pray for the residents who are still displaced as they rebuild. Pray for their physical, emotional and spiritual healing and restoration. Pray for God to provide opportunities for Christ-based counseling to be made available to those who lost everything and for others also impacted by the hurricane. Pray for the local churches and pastors, many of whom are very stretched to continue to shepherd their congregations and also provide disaster relief services.

When it came to resources, we weren’t prepared to meet the viciousness of one of the worst storms our country has ever faced. But we were prepared in other ways. We were equipped to be His hands and feet in the midst of disaster. We were armed with the protection and love of God. And we were prepared by His love to face the aftermath and meet the needs of our community. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Ephesians 2:10).


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Drs. David and Janet Kim are both internal medicine/pediatrics physicians, and they work together at Beacon Christian Community Health Center, a ministry they helped launch in Staten Island, New York. As a medical student, David was involved with the startup of New York City's medical and dental student campus ministry, Intermed. David has been the chief executive officer for Beacon since its inception in 2004. Janet joined Beacon as a staff physician in December 2006 after also completing her residency at Staten Island University Hospital, now serving as the chief medical officer. They are both involved with student and resident mentoring and teaching, focusing on the roles of Christian healthcare professionals in a secular society. They have four children and are active CMDA members.