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After a horrendous fire on Maui, nurses answer call for help

Three Northern California Home Health employees volunteered in Maui recently and returned home humbled. Pictured, from left to right, Maui volunteers: Mindy Prestia, Charleen Valli, and Grace Rodriguez.

Home Health employees Mindy Prestia, Grace Rodriguez, and Charleen Valli had a common item on their bucket lists: Volunteer as part of a disaster relief effort.

The trio recently got their chance when Home Health leaders asked for employee volunteers to assist in Maui, still reeling from a deadly fire in August.

All three registered nurses felt a calling to give back to the community in this way.

“This is something we can do,” Rodriguez explained. “We can share our skills and our knowledge.”

Rodriguez, quality coordinator in Home Health in Novato, and Prestia, regional service director for Home Health and Hospice Quality, went for a week in September, when tourism was still shut down. Valli, a clinical supervisor with Home Health in Sacramento, was there at the same time and stayed an extra week.

“I was amazed by how they came together. They were so grateful to whatever anyone gave, no matter how big or small.”

Grace Rodriguez, RN

Northern California wasn’t the only region to dispatch staff. Several dozen employees and physicians from Southern California, including those from Home Health, Employee Assistance Program, and National Facilities Services construction teams, among others, traveled to Maui to help. In addition, several physicians have been providing virtual care.

The Northern Californian team mostly visited Home Health patients, who have a range of conditions, but all needing care in their homes. They helped with regular patients to free up the local clinicians to care for fire victims.

While the volunteers were working a good hour away from the historic town of Lahaina – where the fire destroyed more than 2,000 structures, mostly homes, and claimed at least 99 lives – they could see how it affected the whole island. Maui is a small place, and everyone knows someone who was a victim.

Prestia recalled one patient whose friend was finally able to check on her boat, more than a month after the fire. The boat owner was excited and relieved that it survived. Since it was anchored at dock 13, she renamed the boat Lucky 13.

Prestia also traveled to Lahaina and saw displaced residents in a hotel, their meals paid for by the Red Cross.

“These families and communities were really taken care of,” she said. “Even talking about it gives me the chills.”

“This experience in Maui showed me so much about the resilience of people, and that even the little things you do really have an impact.”

Charleen Valli, RN

There were other stories that left an impression.

Valli and Rodriguez recalled a couple in their 80s who housed fire victims, a family of nine, for a month. After the family left, the couple used their extra space to store disaster relief supplies.

There was also a patient who has housed a fire victim who agreed to be his caretaker after his surgery.

“I was amazed by how they came together,” Rodriguez said. “They were so grateful to whatever anyone gave, no matter how big or small.”

All of them would answer the call again to volunteer in an area devastated by a disaster.

“I’d go in a heartbeat anywhere,” Valli said. “This experience in Maui showed me so much about the resilience of people, and that even the little things you do really have an impact.”

Read more about the Maui Strong effort, which includes employee donations and sending a mobile health van from Northern California to West Maui.



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