Skip over global navigation links
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Local Students, DJ Help NDMS Connect and Communicate with Puerto Rico Communities

Author: HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 11/3/2017 5:57:00 PM
Category: Response & Recovery;

In Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Hima-San Pablo Fajardo Hospital was severely damaged due to Hurricane Maria. Power was lost and the primary and acute care needs of patients in and around the community were not being met. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services immediately deployed several Disaster Medical Assistant Teams (DMAT) from the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) to the area. Setting up tents just outside HIMA-San Pablo Fajardo Hospital, the nurses, physicians, paramedics, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals immediately began providing services.

One problem. Very few patients sought the services being provided. But why?

Turns out, years ago, similar medical tents had been set up in the same area. However, those tents were used for quarantine of an infectious disease. Because of the history of the tents and their location, people were unwilling to seek medical care because they were worried they would be quarantined and separated from their families.

Local Students Come to the Rescue

Nursing and medical students as well as several Boy Scouts began volunteering their time to talk to the community, letting their friends, families, and listeners know what services were being offered and how DMAT could help. As an added measure, the students also volunteered to help Fajardo residents better undertand DMAT medical professionals.

Student volunteer 

As a result, the students quickly developed a friendly rapport with DMAT members. The students were also the first people patients saw when they arrived at the tents; since residents knew and trusted them, they immediately felt at ease in a new environment, and began trusting the medical staff.

A radio DJ who personally received care at the site also began talking on air about the care he received. Between the DJ talking on the air and the students working with the community and putting patients at ease, more and more residents in need of medical help came to the DMAT tents and received the care they needed.

“Every day these students would show up at our tents looking for ways to help,” said Rachael Wennekamp, a paramedic with New Mexico 1 DMAT. “These young volunteers are amazing future assets to their community. They have provided us a tremendous service, and I am honored to be working with them.”

Student volunteer 

On November 2, each student volunteer and the local DJ personally received Certificates of Appreciation from Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan, as part the Secretary’s two-day tour of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands this week.

Acting Secretary Hargan with student volunteers




These kids began helping us when we initially set up our tents. Myself and team mates made life long friends from them. I am so glad to see they have stuck it out through thick and thin, and have been recognized for their service to the citizens of FAJARDO as well as the awesome service they provided to us South Carolina 1 DMAT, and the other teams who have came in afterwards. Wes Davidson
11/6/2017 12:21:30 PM


Rock on! We fell in love with our young translators in Fajardo. They became part of our team.
11/6/2017 12:21:45 PM

They were the Glue

I worked with these amazing young adults for 2 weeks at Fajardo and they were integral to our success at the clinic in Fajardo. From basic translating for those on the team that spoke no English to helping out with vital signs during surges they were the glue that held us together. We really couldn't have done it without them and I am so happy that they got the recognition that they really deserve. I wish them all continued success and recognition for their work. Trina Cosme, RN-Team Lead, Mount Sinai
11/15/2017 5:38:56 PM

Add Comments:

This is a moderated blog-we will review all comments before posting them. To learn more, please see ASPR Blog and Social Media Comments.


Please validate the following expression by entering the correct numeric value.
Question: What is eight + eight ?