Cyclone evacuee turn clinic co-ordinater

In the days after Cyclone Gabrielle devastated Esk Valley, health professionals came together and stood up an emergency clinic – without power and internet connection – to support their traumatised community.

At the helm, was Te Whatu Ora Nurse Practitioner and recent evacuee Kate Te Pou.

Kate is quick to say that she and her husband Tuiringa (Tu) Te Pou were one of the lucky ones. However, the 14 February will forever be etched in her memory.

Kate woke to the Civil Defence alarm at 5.28am.

“The water was rising rapidly and was cascading from everywhere as we tried to drive to higher ground. The truck was swiftly pushed into the trees and I ended up climbing through the window onto the roof. Tu disappeared into the darkness to find equipment to rescue me.”

“I could no longer see him and the roar of the surrounding water was frightening. I prepared for the worst.”

Fortunately, Tu returned with a walking pole and dog lead, which they used as a safety line, to tie themselves together and made their way back to their home in chest-deep raging water.

The water soon started to recede almost as quickly as it had risen, leaving behind mounds of silt.

“We were lucky, our house was spared while others lost everything. We were later evacuated to the Bayview Hotel by Civil Defence and police ahead of a further heavy rain warning.”

“That night we met so many survivors and found comfort in being able to share our experiences with those who understood. There were so many worse off and again we counted our blessings.”

The next morning Kate met Carlyle Medical Nurse Ruth Miller and aged care nurse Richelle Villanueva and together they set up a first aid station with support from Te Whatu Ora Security Guard Craig Timmings and two pharmacists.

Word soon spread and other health professionals arrived to offer help. Even friend and colleague Sue Ward turned up with Kate’s script pad and Te Whatu Ora headed paper.

Kate developed a plan with colleagues to form a short-term health clinic as transport and connectivity issues had isolated the community.

“Alongside Clinical Pharmacist Facilitator Diane Redding, we created take-home packs of medications and decided on safe and appropriate antibiotic therapy, realising the usual first-line therapy wasn’t going to be enough to manage the potential respiratory and skin infections along with diarrhoea and vomiting that could come next from this type of event.”

Not only did Kate provide patient care, but managed the day-to-day running of the clinic which was staffed during the day as they were still without power.

“We had no internet and very poor cell coverage, so we relied on our combined skills and knowledge to ensure safe practice.”

Overnight, Kate covered on-call with Registered Nurse Prescriber Lisa Penberthy from Totara Health and a local retired doctor. Te Whatu Ora Security Guard and local resident Bobi Combri kept both the clinic and the pharmacy safe during the power outage when all the alarms were down.

“So many people stepped up to help. We had a physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, reflexology and massage therapist working alongside us offering free care as well as the Mental Health team supporting this kaupapa. The hotel publicans Adrienne and Trevor Morrin and volunteers made sure we were well fed in the first few weeks and even my dog Whero helped, becoming a therapy dog of sorts.

“We treated a variety of conditions, from eye irritations to heart attacks, with a true understanding of the pain and trauma people were feeling. We offered them a safe space to take time out from the horror so many had endured.

“We cried, hugged and laughed together and supported our community with manaakitanga at the heart of everything.”

Kate said she’d do it all again in a heartbeat – with many learnings taken from setting up an emergency medical response with limited communication.

 “I think I can speak for every health professional involved, that it was a privilege to be able to step up and help our local community in this way. We did the best we could, with the resources we had, and people were so thankful for the supported locally.”

Pictured from left: Kate Te Pou, Nurse Practitioner, Craig Timmings, Security Officer, Lisa Penberthy, Registered Nurse at Totara Health, Bobi Combri, Security Guard and Ruth Miller, Registered Nurse, Carlyle Medical.

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