Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sarasota advocates reflect on the impact on Ian’s health a year later

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian this week may bring back painful memories for some Floridians, especially those affected by the storm who are still struggling.

For Sarasota resident Vicki Guy, talking about Ian’s immediate passing gives her goosebumps.

He remembers anxiously trying to reach friends and family who lived in the south and needed rescue after the Category 4 storm flooded their homes. His mother needed help with her own damaged house nearby.

“A lot of stress, a lot of trauma, you know, feeling like your whole world is rocked,” Guy said.

Aerial Shot Of Flooded Neighborhood
Rain from Hurricane Ian poured into waterways that serve as tributaries of the Myakka River, causing it to rise and flood several neighborhoods and streets in North Port.

“People are crushed”

Guy also has other concerns as a program manager at the Multicultural Health Institute. The nonprofit helps low-income residents access health care and other social services.

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Many clients experienced similar distress after the typhoon, said Guy. Others were among the thousands of Floridians who lost their homes. Others struggled to maintain their health after Ian disrupted parts of the health care system, temporarily closing storm-damaged facilities and causing an increase in demand for care.

“This kind of makes people scramble,” Guy said. “After the storm there are a lot of people who don’t have medicine. Doctors’ appointments, the routine of maintaining their health sometimes gets lost because you’re busy trying to survive.”

Woman Sitting At A Table In A Conference Room.

Stephanie Colombini

Vicki Guy must deal with her own trauma from Hurricane Ian while helping the clients she works with as a program manager at the Multicultural Health Institute.

Guy and other state advocates have spent the past year working to address the physical and mental health issues Ian has caused. And they are applying the lessons learned to help residents prepare this hurricane season.

After the typhoon, the Multicultural Health Institute shifted the way it provides services, by increasing attention to those affected by Hurricane Ian and extending assistance south to the counties most affected by the typhoon. For months, they worked with the humanitarian organization Project HOPE together with local churches, neighborhood associations, health departments and other groups to provide for those in need.

This includes supplying basics like food and diapers, but also offers medical equipment and free screenings to help residents regain their health.

People Stand Around Folding Tables Covered In Supplies Such As Diapers And Toilet Paper As Part Of A Disaster Relief Effort.
The Multicultural Health Institute worked with other organizations to distribute disaster relief supplies to residents in the months following Ian’s landfall.

The anniversary of the loss

Certified trauma specialist Helen Neal with the community group SRQ Strong also became partners in helping to address Ian’s psychological wounds.

“People are devastated, they’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost everything, so it’s been very difficult this year,” he said.

Neal offers a supportive ear to clients who need to talk about their pain and works with them on breathing exercises and other tactics to better manage stress.

“You know what’s going on, you can’t change it, but what you think about it you can, and that helps you move forward, so that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

A one-year anniversary can be a difficult time for many, Neal said. He is especially concerned about those connected to the nearly 150 people who died in the storm.

“Those grieving processes come back, that pain comes back,” he said.

Woman Standing In The Office.

Stephanie Colombini

Helen Neal trains staff and clients at the Multicultural Health Institute on how to understand trauma and build resilience to respond to future disasters.

For others, Ian isn’t done yet

And a year later some people continue to pick up the pieces. They are waiting for relief money or insurance payments to repair houses and buildings that are still moldy or uninhabitable due to storm damage.

For working class families that can add more stress and lead to other health problems such as asthma or high blood pressure.

Ian highlights the inequities in the region where “recovery” is often limited to the wealthy, said Dr. Lisa Merritt, executive director of the Multicultural Health Institute.

“And yet the people who serve the people, the essential workers, the caregivers, the gardeners, the restaurant workers, the basic people who suffer the most are the ones who struggle the most. ,” he said.

House Destroyed By Typhoon Ian

Hardee County Sheriff’s Office

Some Florida residents have struggled to help rebuild their homes in the year since Hurricane Ian destroyed them.

Adding to the problem is that the storm hit Florida while the state was experiencing an affordable housing crisis and one of the highest inflation rates in the country – challenges that continue today.

“So imagine you’re living somewhere, you’ve been through the storm, you’re doing well and then – bam – they (landlords) raise the rent. And on top of that your child’s inhaler will cost $250,” said Merritt.

As part of their ongoing work, Merritt’s staff helps residents apply for financial assistance to access and pay for things like housing and health care.

He spoke as Hurricane Idalia approached the state last month and noted that with lessons learned, their clients are better off this time around.

“Because we check on them all the time to make sure they get to their appointments, do they have their medications, do they have diabetes supplies, etc.” he said. “That’s why it’s important to make sure they have what they need.”

Idalia saved Southwest Florida compared to Ian but Merritt said the work must go on.

Helping residents get to a stable place year-round will better prepare them mentally and physically for future storms, he said.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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