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caring for our Newest Bostonians: Supporting Hurricane Maria Evacuees in the City of Boston


In the wake of Hurricane Maria, hundreds of Puerto Rican and US Virgin Island residents self-evacuated to the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts. Primarily using their own resources, these families and individuals arrived sporadically over an extended time period. They had difficulty accessing Federal resources, and the complicated set of health and socials services they needed. This session will give an overview of the role that the Boston Public Health Commission’s (BPHC) Office of Public Health Preparedness (OPHP) played in developing and coordinating recovery phase operations to identify and assist those who self-evacuated to the area.  

Though Boston’s public health and healthcare systems had participated in responses to large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, and the Marathon bombing, the recovery from this natural disaster presented several challenges that will be covered in this session. The evacuation, which took place over a long period of time, placed a high demand on a city’s emergency management, public health and healthcare, and social services systems, which would be normally supported with Federal resources, such the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). This complements the support ecosystem of the local jurisdiction with emergency management coordination, scheduled evacuee arrivals, known patient manifests, and case management resources for evacuees and their companions. The system is robust, informed by experience derived from countless emergency evacuations, and requires regular participation in exercises and drills.  

Unfortunately, this system was not available for Hurricane Maria evacuees to Boston, resulting in hundreds of evacuees arriving at different times with differing sets of needs. Without the combined efforts of several community, faith, city and state agencies, the evacuees, their families, and communities would not have been able to manage. This self-selected group of partners collaborated to meet the vast set of evacuee needs ranging from school enrollment and housing, to job readiness and FEMA enrollment.  

Initially led by Boston Public Schools, partners met regularly to identify evacuees and their respective needs of families with school-aged children, while collaborating with unions, community health centers, and the Massachusetts Department for Children and Families. BPHC identified the relevant services represented by its ~1,100 person workforce for publication on it on websites and in printed materials. BPHC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness also deployed Spanish-speaking members of the Boston Medical Reserve Corps to the 5 Welcome Centers that were stood up for evacuee enrollment and support. 

Presenters

Courtney Grey, BS
Director, Disaster Behavioral Health, Office of Public Health Preparedness

Stacey Kokaram, MPH
Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness

Presentation Materials