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Camp Coast Care part of Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response

Medical clinic provides needed services to Katrina survivors

Long Beach — Camp Coast Care is providing a multitude of needed services for people of the devastated Gulf Coast. Chief among those is the medical clinic that is open six-and-a-half days a week and staffed by volunteer physicians and nurses from all over the country.

The camp is a ministry of the Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response operating under the direction of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and is located on the grounds of Coast Episcopal School in Long Beach. The Rev. Joe Robinson of Jackson serves as camp director.

According to Cathy Dumal, interim director of the medical clinic, the free clinic is currently serving about 130 people per day, down a bit from the average of 160 per day since it was set up soon after Hurricane Katrina struck. Seeing patients in a large, enclosed tent, the staff varies but this month consists of a pediatrician, a family practitioner, internal medicine specialist, a psychiatrist, four nurse practitioners and seven nurses. All are volunteering their time.

“Doctors and nurses are taking time to come from all over the country. The medical center is an amazing gift for the people of the Coast. It’s a wonderful thing,” said the Rev. Janet Ott who coordinates volunteers and distribution. “We’ve seen every kind of person and they’re so grateful to have a place to go. It’s a complete blessing.”

Ott, who is priest associate at the Episcopal Church of the Creator in Clinton, also provides pastoral care and secures supplies for the camp. She doesn’t know how long the medical clinic will function at Camp Coast Care. The goal is to return patients to their personal physicians on the Coast.

“We need to get them operating,” she said of the area’s medical community. “They’re struggling. Our goal is to turn patients over to them as soon as possible but there is no absolute deadline.”

Some staff members have taken a van and gone out to remote locations to minister to the medical needs of residents.

“It’s all appreciated,” Ott said. “We’ve seen an opening of hearts. People here realize that with all of us in it together they’ll get over it.”

The clinic operates as an acute care facility, quickly assessing patients’ needs and sending them to local hospitals if warranted. Ott says the ambulances know where the clinic is located.

Dumal normally works at the Coastal Family Health Center as special projects director and has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s in community health. “We see a good bit of upper respiratory problems, puncture wounds, heart conditions, upset stomach, babies with rashes, and general post-traumatic disease with symptoms of anxiety, sadness, depression, anger and trouble sleeping,” she said. “That is common after traumatic events.”

The clinic has a pharmacy for prescribed and over-the-counter medications provided by people all over the country. Some medications are samples and some are purchased by visiting and local physicians, Dumal said.

The medical clinic was started by Jennifer Knight, a Long Beach nurse who tried to volunteer at several places immediately after the hurricane but was turned down. The UrgiCare facility in Bay St. Louis where she normally works as nursing supervisor was destroyed. Her church, St. Patrick’s Episcopal in Long Beach, was also destroyed.

“In the midst of the uncertainty of those early days, I felt I had to do something to help people, to get busy,” she said. “Somehow, a few of us found our way to Coast Episcopal School, maybe because it was the only structure standing, maybe because it was divine intervention. Either way, there we were, struggling to put together a way to help the community.”
Knight says the need for medical attention was apparent. At that time, the only operational hospital was already stretched beyond its means. Most clinics and physicians were gone.

“As the relief effort got underway at Coast Episcopal School, I received a phone call from the Bishop (Duncan M. Gray III). He gave me permission to start the medical clinic, so up went Camp Coast Care Medical Clinic,” she said. “With help from some young adults from Hattiesburg and Oxford, a Meridian medical group, a team from Virginia and some local Mississippi nurses, we were up and running in less than three days.”

The organizers used hand-painted plywood signs around the area to let residents know they were open for business. They saw more than 350 patients the first day they were open. Thus began a free medical clinic that serves people without discrimination, offering services that would otherwise be unavailable during this time of need.

“Even though there are days and moments when I don’t think I can go another minute, this experience shows me miracle after miracle,” Knight says. “Amongst the tragedy, there has been joy, friendships have been made and lives have truly been changed.”

Knight said volunteers attest that they have been changed forever by the experience of helping at the clinic. While there, they sleep on cots under one roof in the school gym. They eat together and work in a tent that is at times full to capacity. “Yet, the work gets done mostly with smiles and warm hearts,” she added.

Knight is taking a well-deserved vacation while Dumal runs the clinic as interim director.

Diane Livingston of Starkville helps coordinate volunteers for the clinic and all of the camp. “The response has been incredible. Sometimes we can’t house them all. People are continuing to call,” she said. “We have some coming back for the second and third times, so obviously it’s affecting the people who come to give of their time.”

She said the diversity of volunteers is amazing and heart warming. Volunteer numbers are down somewhat for December because of the holidays. However, there are some college groups coming during the semester break in addition to volunteer groups of two and three people. Livingston said the camp also has space for volunteers to set up their own tents.

“If we can just keep the word out, volunteers will keep coming,” she said. “It’s simple: they can work first hand and meet the families they’re helping. In our country we don’t often see this. It’s a circle effect.”

Additional information is available online at www.campcoastcare.com/.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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