Heroes of Superstorm Sandy: Prescriptions Filled, Lives Saved

<b class="credit">Courtesy Sharon See</b>(L-R) Sharon See, Dana Spivak and Maureen Thyne saw a need and set up an emergency prescription system in Hoboken City Hall during Superstorm Sandy.
Courtesy Sharon See(L-R) Sharon See, Dana Spivak and Maureen Thyne saw a need and set up an emergency prescription system in Hoboken City Hall during Superstorm Sandy.

Sharon See was tired of sitting in the dark. Like so many of Hoboken, N.J.'s roughly 50,000 residents, the doctor of pharmacy and associate clinical professor for St. John's University had been left stranded in a powerless building by Superstorm Sandy.

As soon as she was able, See decided to lend a hand to the community. The city's pharmacies were closed, with their computer systems down, and many residents' prescriptions were running out. "I walked up to City Hall to volunteer, and asked about plans for a medication relief effort," Dr. See recalls. "There was no plan."

Lou Casciano, coordinator of Hoboken's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), recognized the need and immediately put the very qualified See in charge. She was soon joined by two city residents affiliated with the Weill Cornell Medical College, also volunteering their services: family medicine physician Dana Spivak, MD and physician assistant Maureen Thyne.

Essential work
"I could've gotten to work [at Brooklyn Hospital Center] by ferry, but I felt my help was essential here," Dr. Spivak says. The three medical professionals spearheaded the newly created pharmacy control center, aided by local pharmacists and nurse practitioners. They set up shop in a repurposed courtroom at the darkened City Hall and focused on the task at hand.

A plan was devised with CVS and Walgreens, which had both reopened using generator power, to provide emergency three-day prescriptions at no charge. Individuals could bring empty medication bottles directly to the pharmacies. However, this wasn't an option for every resident, including many senior citizens stuck on upper floors of powerless high rises. The team quickly organized a system sending volunteers-from the local community and students from the Stevens Institute of Technology to buildings throughout town to collect detailed medication information.

Back at City Hall, prescriptions were written, which were filled by CVS and Walgreens. Volunteers then delivered the medications to homebound residents. "There were so many volunteers willing to do whatever they could to help," says Dr. See. "It was amazing. I've never felt more connected to Hoboken." The process worked very efficiently, filling 206 prescriptions in two days.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer singled out the tremendous efforts of See, Spivak, Thyne, and nurse practitioner Craig Sorkin during the mayor's State of the City Address in February. "Thank you for saving lives," Mayor Zimmer said. CERT was also honored by FEMA.

Lasting impact
Their experiences in the days following that mighty storm have had a lasting impact on the resourceful pharmacy crew. "After Sandy, I wanted to become more involved in my community," says Dr. See, who has lived in Hoboken for 15 years. In early 2013, both See and Spivak went through nine weeks of training to become Hoboken CERT members. Dr. Spivak had only lived in town a little over a year when Sandy struck. She says, "Now I truly have a sense of home, and pride in the resilience of my neighbors."

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