For weeks after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico, Dr. Sarai Ambert-Pompey struggled to reach two of her family members — an uncle who is a Veteran and an aunt who had been sick.
She worried about whether they were alone; whether they were eating; whether they were even still alive. She was concerned about the use of generators — about the burns and carbon monoxide poisoning she had heard about. She sent emails to an outpatient clinic in Guayama, looking for any updates on the city.
A sense of uncertainty weighed heavy over those weeks, especially for Ambert-Pompey. A native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, she now works thousands of miles away in Boise, Idaho, as a VA primary care provider.
But through VA telehealth efforts, Ambert-Pompey quickly found a way to help: She joined a team of volunteers who were tracking down more than 650 high-risk Veterans that VA facilities in Puerto Rico were having trouble contacting. Some of these Veterans had recently been discharged from a psychiatric inpatient unit, others had shown characteristics that signaled a risk for suicide.
“I felt so helpless, being so far away from the island and everything that was going on,” Ambert-Pompey said. “I was taking care of my own patients and just feeling helpless. So being able to do this little, small piece — to give back — it really meant the world to me.”
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