Regarding how the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses volunteers in times of natural disaster ["FEMA Let Reserves Wither, Hurting Response, Some Say; As It Seeks More Workers, Agency Relies on Contractors in Gulf Coast," news story, Sept. 26]:
I am a member of a U.S. Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which consists of 120 physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, pharmacists, dentists, emergency medical technicians and other health professionals. This team was started in 1984 in the Washington area and served as a prototype for other such teams all over this country. We have served in many risky situations such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, demonstrations, presidential inaugurals and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
When FEMA was placed under the Department of Homeland Security, our sponsorship was dropped, however. Our medical supplies were removed from our warehouse, which also was taken from us. No agency has stepped up to provide administrative and material support for the team.
As a result, one field-tested trained medical team sat on the sidelines during Hurricane Katrina. We met regularly to assess our status and came away with a sense of frustration that, although we might be needed to serve in a natural disaster or terrorist attack, we had to sit this one out.
I am sorry that the physician who wrote the Sept. 25 Outlook article "Good Samaritan Overload; My Short-Lived Adventure as a Katrina Medical Responder" found too many doctors in Baton Rouge, La. Help still was desperately needed along the Mississippi coast.
I spent eight days in that area as a nurse practitioner in a relief center. We were swamped from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; we also made house calls, visited shelters and treated people who were brought to us in the middle of the night.
We ran a clinic, with a small surgery center and a pharmacy; we had mental health providers and a respiratory center -- all in a school gymnasium with only three walls. A nurse whose husband was pastor of a church that had washed away swept out the gym and saw 300 patients the first day -- with a physician from Virginia who showed up to help. I arrived on the third day, and I saw more than 2,000 patients in eight days. We had health providers from Maryland, Virginia, Indiana and Duke University. And every person thanked us for coming and helping.