Peoples Medical Relief Coney Island One Month Update Jeff Shawn

Coney Island NYC, Dec. 9, 2012 — Greetings! We at People's Medical Relief marked our one month anniversary of work on Coney Island on Wednesday, and thought the occasion would be a good opportunity to give an update on the work we've done, continue to do, and are planning for the coming weeks and months.

The past month

People’s Medical Relief had its start on November 5, one week after Hurricane Sandy, when four street medics responded to Coney Island with the goal of setting up a clinic and grassroots medical hub. At that time, the most pressing medical issue was the care of residents in high-rise buildings homebound by the loss of power, isolated, and abandoned by . We spent our first days on Coney canvassing blacked-out high-rises, providing medical care and evacuating residents in need of emergency care while running an ad-hoc walk in clinic out of the pews of Coney Island Gospel Assembly church. A chance encounter with other organizers in the Coney Island Houses project led to the formation of a more complete and efficient canvassing effort:

  1. Non-medical organizers mobilized large numbers of non-medical volunteers and dispatched teams to buildings, taking care to avoid duplication.
  2. These volunteers knocked on every door in every building in Coney Island proper, a dense neighborhood with 60,000 residents and targeted buildings in Brighton Beach.
  3. Volunteers saw to residents' material needs (food, water, supplies). When a medical need was identified, they called PMR.
  4. From our clinic/coordination space we triaged the calls and dispatched teams of medical providers (EMTs, RNs, street medics, MDs, med students, etc.) to provide care to homebound residents.

The mass canvassing effort was in full force for about a week, until all buildings had been canvassed for emergency needs and the power began to come back on. During that time we made an estimated 200 medical house calls to residents with identified medical need, while running the clinic in the church.

As the power came back on in the high-rises, our focus shifted towards primary care. Medical resources in Coney are still largely shut down. Coney Island Hospital is only partially open, the CIH general practice clinic is closed indefinitely, and most private practices and small clinics were flooded and have yet to reopen. We've had a walk in clinic open every day since November 5th staffed by various providers, and most days at least one prescriber.

Current work

We currently work out of a clinic built into a shipping container sent here from Joplin, MO, and provide free primary care to people without other options. Volunteer providers staff the clinic. We occasionally make house calls, but the need for that practice has decreased greatly with the return of power. A large portion of the work we do involves management and care for chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes, but we're a community health clinic and see all kinds of patients. We give check-ups, refill prescriptions, give asthma treatments, refer patients to hospitals when needed, treat lots and lots of upper respiratory infections, and occasionally take out sutures or give a physical to a high school basketball player. As soon as we find IM injection sharps we'll be giving free flu and tetanus vaccines. We also offer the option of on-site herbal medicine treatment, and sometimes have access to mental health professionals. Most days are steady or busy, some days are slow. We're currently providing a necessary service to a community lacking in primary care options.

Future projects

As we look forward to the weeks and months ahead, we've got a few things in the pipeline. We're starting to work on setting up education days with doctors with specialties like pulmonology and pediatrics, and would like to do more of this. Please contact us if you're interested. We're working on setting up a wellness space with alternative medicine and mental health support, and our herbalist and alternative medicine practitioners are exploring setting up long-term practices here. Recently, we've begun discussions with community members about eventually transferring the coordination of the clinic to people who live and work in Coney Island so it can function as a longer-term resource.

What we need

  1. We have a continuing need for providers to staff the clinic. We can't promise you'll be non-stop busy all day (although you might be). Dr. Silagy, our most regular volunteer, would probably tell you he spends some days with a steady flow of patients and some days with a cup of coffee and the Times or a medical journal, mixed with patiently explaining complex medical concepts to coordinators without complex medical knowledge. We try to have a minimum of one prescribing provider available every day either in person or by phone. Other providers are more than welcome and needed as well. We've had some problems with our online scheduling, so if you can't access and update the google document, please use this procedure for scheduling: Access the current schedule at, and email, text, or call us if you'd like to fill yourself in, or have questions.
  2. We would also love your feedback. Some of you helped with the house calls, some have staffed the clinic, and some have come back many times throughout the last month. Your feedback, advice, criticism and suggestions will help us to improve our efforts here on Coney and elsewhere in the future. Please help us get better.
  3. Sharps for IM injections so we can give vaccines (priority).
  4. Nebulizer tubing and machines.
  5. A compact pulse-oximeter.
  6. A digital blood pressure cuff.
  7. An Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

The hard work and time of our volunteers has made our work possible, effective, and fun. We'd like to ask for continued support, even if that means a commitment of one day a month. The care and environment we provide means a lot to our patients, and donations of time are what make that happen.

Finally, we'd like to give a huge thanks to all of our volunteers who climbed 18 floors by headlamp, spent hours on the phone trying to call in a prescription, traveled two hours from Manhattan to provide primary care in a metal box, and supported our work in every way for the last month. You rock, and your time and work has made a real and tangible difference in the lives of people living here. It's been an honor and a privilege to work alongside you all

Thanks for everything,

Jeff Stein — street medic, EMT
Shawn Westfahl — street medic, Wilderness First Responder

Site Coordinators — Coney Island

People's Medical Relief

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