Meet the Berkshire County volunteers helping out hurricane victims

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PITTSFIELD — From flesh-eating bacteria to strange injuries, caring for patients hit by Hurricane Harvey was unlike anything Geraldine McQuoid had seen in her 45 years of nursing.

"It was heartbreaking," she said.

McQuoid, 69, who works at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, was one of several Berkshires residents to lend a hand to those suffering from recent hurricanes.

Some volunteered to help the storm-torn areas with the American Red Cross, while others coordinated their own efforts. The help has taken varying forms and targeted different areas, but the sentiment was the same: the county residents had to do something.

McQuoid was selected for her experience with infection control by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, who sent a group of nurses to volunteer down in Webster, Texas, earlier this month. McQuoid said there was a nursing shortage in Hurricane Harvey's wake.

She said several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated because of the storm, but Bay Area Regional Medical Center stayed functional because its position on a hill spared it from flooding.

"The emergency rooms were overrun with people coming in with all types of injuries and people coming in with water-borne illnesses," she said, adding the hospital's regular nurses were struggling to manage the workload. "They were working round the clock and sleeping in the hospital until we arrived."

The Massachusetts nurses dressed wounds, provided medication and vaccines to patients in Texas. McQuoid said she treated a man who couldn't avoid wading through the stool and bacteria-infested waters, which turned his skin raw.

She treated one bedridden woman, who due to a series of endocrine issues was severely obese, after she sat waiting on her water-sodden mattress for crews to lift her to safety.

"She ended up with very bad cellulitis and pneumonia from being in the water," McQuoid said. "The water went right through these houses."

The stress of the storm-induced cardiac issues among the older population, and many suffered respiratory issues from staying too long in the water.

"It was a different kind of nursing," she said. "I've seen disasters before. I have never seen anything like this."

McQuoid said she and the other nurses even helped clear houses of mold when off the hospital clock. She choked up talking about the destruction.

"It was devastating to look at what the water did and the amount of damaged homes that were lost," she said. "This isn't just one street — this was whole communities."

McQuoid said she returned home last week feeling fulfilled, both personally and professionally.

"It certainly was the highlight of my career," she said. "I was extremely honored to help these people in whatever way that we could."

Donating time and goods

Cheryl Murray, a Berkshires baker who returned last week from volunteering in Beaumont, Texas, said she saw firsthand the toll that mold can take. She said the work she and other Red Cross volunteers were doing sometimes made the difference between whether or not a house was condemned.

Her job in Beaumont was bulk distribution: bringing other workers and volunteers mold remediation supplies so they could more quickly perform the tasks at hand. She said she saw "pile after pile" of families' belongings lined up, ruined, on the streets.

Murray stressed there's a silver lining beyond the tragedy left in the hurricane's path.

"What's really happening on the ground — the sense of community is absolutely amazing," she said. "It doesn't matter what color you are, what religion you are, everybody is helping everybody. Everybody is taking care of each other."

Kathy Hynes, who runs a small-scale animal shelter called Got Spots Etc. in Adams, said she lived and worked as a military nurse in the Carolinas until a couple of years ago. As a result, she said, she has connections with groups who know what those suffering from Irma's impacts need — both humans and canines alike.

"They really got mashed, so I said, oh we've got to do something," she said.

When she decided to start gathering animal food and supplies to send southward, she found Pine Cobble School had already started collecting diapers and other items for children. So the two partnered to pool collection and transportation resources.

Hynes asks anyone with extra dog food, beds, blankets, brooms, mops, bleach, disposable gloves and other cleaning supplies to drop them off at one of several sites listed below.

"You're never gonna have too much stuff for these rescues," she said, emphasizing these "high-kill" areas do important work saving animals. "My heart is there because I have personal friends who do rescue."

Hynes said the animals are facing health issues because of the heat and the dirty water, as well as tick-borne diseases and trauma.

"The animals go through the same thing a human does when there's tragedy and disasters," she said.

Bill Drosehn, owner of Dalton-based Fluent Mobile Motors and a volunteer firefighter with the Savoy Fire Department, said he'd been brainstorming ways he could help victims of recent hurricanes when he saw goods being collected by Hynes and her collaborators needed transportation to Florida and the Carolinas.

So he said he'll be packing up his 22-foot trailer with everything Hynes can muster and heading south the first week in October.

"However many trips I need to take, I'll take," he said. "I thought this was a great opportunity to do my part in it."

Donated items can be brought to the Mahaiwe Theatre Wednesday through Saturday, St. Mary's Church, both Guido's locations, the Big Y in Adams, Bark N Cat in North Adams, and Dalton General Store during store hours.

Nonperishable human food is also accepted, but Hynes says please no clothes or prescription drugs. Those with questions can call Hynes at 413-664-3643, and those wishing to donate to another effort to help Harvey victims can contact Tricia Farley-Bouvier's office at 413-442-4300 or purchase goods at one of the local Carr Hardware stores and place into the stores' drop boxes.

Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.


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