The power of a phone call: VA telehealth emergency response team reaches out to Puerto Rico’s Veterans

Photo of water hitting shoreline during hurricane

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.”

Read the full article on VAntage Point.