The Role of Physical Therapy in Disaster Relief: Lessons Learned after Katrina and Haiti

The recent earthquake in Haiti has drawn new and broad sweeping attention to the value of rehabilitation services in disaster relief efforts, especially with assisting persons with new amputations and injuries, while addressing protection issues for those already with a disability. In the past, it has been uncommon for large disaster relief organizations to recruit physical therapists in acute disaster relief efforts. This may be because: 1) the role of PT in both natural and manmade disaster relief efforts has been poorly defined within and outside the profession, 2) PTs have historically been considered tertiary healthcare providers, 3) awareness of the profession is inconsistent among relief groups, and 4) populations most affected by lack of PT services are often vulnerable and silent.

The purpose of this presentation is to outline the potential role of PTs in the disaster relief situation by focusing on lessons learned from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and from Haiti after the earthquake in January 2010. We will investigate what the evidence shows on the impact of disaster on creating disabilities, the impact of disaster on persons already living with a disability, and the role of the rehabilitation professional in disasters. Why don’t we know more? What do we know and how do we know it? Responses to Hurricane Katrina and Haiti’s earthquake will be used as case studies to try and answer some of these questions.

The presenters will share their insights and experiences with disaster relief efforts in Haiti and New Orleans. The actual and potential role of PT and other rehabilitation professionals during relief efforts will be discussed, along with local and international disaster preparedness implications. The acute, sub-acute and long-term rehabilitation needs will be examined in Haiti, where there was little rehabilitation infrastructure prior to the earthquake.

In summary, presenters will outline lessons learned in Haiti and Katrina, provide a description of the role of PTs in disaster relief, and discuss challenges for the future of our profession and disaster preparedness.

Thanks for attending this presentation February 10, 2011 in New Orleans.  Please post any questions to our speakers below under “comments”.

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Selected slides from the speakers

Thanks for your interest in “The Role of PT in Disaster Relief: Lessons Learned in Haiti and Katrina.”  The speakers have graciously shared selected slides with our community.  Please note, these slides are only to be used as a resource and may not be duplicated or reproduced without written consent from the author.

Part 1: Medical Rehabilitation Perspectives in Haiti Relief Efforts by David Charles, PT

Part 2: The Critical Role of PTs in Acute Disasters: A Physician’s Perspective from Haiti by Koji Nakashima, MD MHS

Part 3: Hurricane Katrina: An Overview of Domestic Disaster Management by Scott Gaustad MPT, OCS, GCS, SCS, CWS, FCCWS, DPCWA, CSCS

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About the speakers

David Charles, PT

David Charles is the Rehabilitation Services Manager at Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti.  He earned his Physical Therapy Degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre Y Maestra at Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic in 2007 and goes back to Haiti to serve. He currently works for Hopital Albert Schweitzer, Deschapelles, Haiti, where he serves as Rehabilitation Services Manager. He is also one of the leaders in initiating the Haitian Physical Therapy Association. In April 2010, he served as a Haitian delegate for the North America and Caribbean Region meeting of the World Confederation of Physical Therapy.

Koji Nakashima, MD

Koji Nakashima is supervisor of the Rehabilitation Program and Staff Physician at Partners In Health in Haiti and Instructor in Medicine at Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  Dr. Nakashima is a graduate of the Doris and Howard Hiatt Global Health Equity Residency Program at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital through which he has worked with Partners In Health in Haiti since 2006.  His work in Haiti has included developing a neonatology program, elevating cancer and congenital heart disease care, and most recently the development of an integrated rehabilitation program for Partners in Health.


Scott Gaustad is Chief Clinical Consultant and Acting Director of Physical Therapy at the Indian Health Service, United States Public Health Service, in Whiteriver, Arizona.  CAPT Scott Gaustad earned his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University in 1991.  CAPT Gaustad is currently stationed at the U.S. Public Health Service/Indian Health Service Hospital in Whiteriver, Arizona, where he serves as the Chief Clinical Consultant for the Indian Health Service Rehabilitation Services Program and Acting Director of Physical Therapy.  CAPT Gaustad also serves as Deputy Team Leader for the National Incident Support Team – B and has been deployed to national emergencies which include Hurricanes’ Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.

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