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[November 19, 2012]

SUNY Downstate Aids Brooklyn Residents Affected by Hurricane Sandy:

Students and Staff Turn Out to Help Residents of Red Hook on “Day of Service”

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Visit the Hurricane Resources Volunteer Event Photo Gallery »

SUNY Downstate Medical Center students, faculty, administrative staff, and volunteers turned out in large numbers on November 10 – which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed a “Day of Service” – to help residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood who were adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Red Hook residents, many of whom were still without heat and electricity since the storm, took advantage of the medical screenings organized by students associated with Downstate’s Brooklyn Free Clinic (BFC), a student-led program that provides medical care to uninsured Brooklyn residents under the supervision of Downstate medical faculty. Members of Downstate’s Students for Social Responsibility – a student organization dedicated to community service activities – also participated by administering free flu shots under the supervision of nursing staff.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to work with BFC and Downstate to give back to our local community,” said third-year medical student Nubia Chong. “I did not realize the hardships that our neighbors in Red Hook are facing until I heard their stories first hand. All the patients were so grateful for the help; it really felt like we made a difference.”  She added, “Opportunities like this really make me grateful that I go to such a great school.” 

Cameron Gibson, a fourth-year medical student, said, “As a long-time volunteer for the BFC, I was pleased to see us participating in community outreach and helping out where there was real need in our borough.  Brooklyn is our neighborhood, and, as a free clinic, we have our work cut out for us, but based on the turn-out we have the will to get the job done.”

Noting the problems community residents were still facing, Mert Erogul, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, said, “I won’t forget all those people who showed up wearing layers and layers of clothes, who then went home to their cold apartments to make it through another night. But at least they had the feeling that someone cared about them. I think that in itself was enormously comforting to them, but I must say we also did good medical work and provided concrete benefits to many people.”
Downstate provided the services at a Health & Resource Fair organized by New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz at the Joseph A. Miccio Community Center on West 9th Street. Addressing the contingent from Downstate, Assemblyman Ortiz said, “I appreciate your taking the time to help the people of Red Hook; thank you for being here for my community.” The neighborhood of Red Hook, part of the area known as South Brooklyn, is near the Long Island College Hospital campus of Downstate’s University Hospital of Brooklyn.      

Matthew Riscinti, a second-year medical student who is BFC’s chief communications officer and who has done health-related volunteer work in South America, explained that the medical screenings were set up to conform to an international clinic model. Following registration and the signing of consent forms, patients were directed to triage, where vital signs were taken under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Patients needing medical care were taken by student runners to be seen by Downstate medical faculty in exam rooms set up on a lower floor of the building. Those needing medications were then taken to a pharmacy organized on site, then discharged. Free medications were provided by the organization, Direct Relief International, and BFC. A total of 50 patients went through the system set up by BFC, with four patients requiring referral to emergency room care. Flu vaccinations were administered to 44 attendees.

Also participating in the event was Downstate’s Center for Community Health Promotion and Wellness, which provides regular health screenings throughout the year at many Brooklyn venues, and which administered 23 blood pressure screenings and 34 blood glucose tests.

Fourth-year medical student Beverly Tchang, BFC’s chief operations officer, commended everyone who participated, noting that the students had cooperation and input from departments across the Downstate campus. All told, more than a hundred people from Downstate volunteered for the event, including medical faculty from seven departments and more than 50 students.

The BFC students are now assessing the data they collected from the community members who were screened to construct a retrospective needs assessment that will provide guidance for any future response to an emergency as severe as Hurricane Sandy.    


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.