Helping Indonesia’s Health Workers Through a Crisis
Ibu Rizka is trained for the worst. She has seen patients in their darkest hours and endured the agony of searching for colleagues who don’t report to work after disasters, their fates unknown. Now, the Indonesian emergency room nurse and Disaster and Crisis Management Coordinator is coping with the aftermath of more tragedy, following the earthquake and tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi on September 28.
In this disaster, as many others before it, health services have been severed because many of the medical staff who keep them running have not been able to show up for work. That means the pain and suffering unleashed by the initial disaster is exacerbated by a fast growing health crisis in its wake.
Only two of the 72 staff members from the Dolo Community Health Center reported for work when the clinic reopened. While all of the clinic staff suffered the devastating quake, many are still in shock.
“Health care workers suffer the same psychological trauma as anyone else who lives through a devastating disaster. For many of the health workers at the Dolo Community Health Center, this was the first disaster they’ve experienced and they are struggling to cope and afraid to be separated from their families right now,” said Rizka.
In her role as the clinic’s Disaster and Crisis Management Coordinator, Rizka summons up the courage to confront the crisis each day and care for hundreds of sick patients who have come to the clinic since it was re-opened by Project HOPE’s medical teams just days after the disaster.
The teams are rotating between posts in Dolo and Palupi in Palu and door-to-door visits in the villages nearby. Since Project HOPE began delivering health services on October 4, the teams have served over 1000 patients.
“Project HOPE has been so helpful because our local health workers and staff from local health NGOs are still in shock and it’s very likely that some of them lost relatives of their own,” said Rizka.
To help facilitate the return of health workers, Project HOPE will transition activities to focus on mental health care for front-line health workers.
“My heart goes out to every health professional who is coming to grips with the loss of life from this disaster, whether it be a family member, a friend, neighbor or a patient from this health center. Some of the health workers are homeless now or can’t find relatives and are still in shock,” said Dr. Alia Budi, a member of Project HOPE’s Emergency Response Team in Dolo.
“It will take time to process these emotions and to be able to function again. That’s why we are here – to fill the gaps in care and support health workers as they come to terms with the aftermath of this crisis. It will take time,” said Dr. Budi.
In addition to physical ailments, mental health continues to be a major concern. Many patients have continued to show signs of stress and anxiety when interacting with medical staff. The people of Central Sulawesi are still afraid. Afraid to return to work or enter buildings.
“After the earthquake and tsunami, I first made sure that my family was safe. During the earthquake, I started to evacuate people in my area. I told people to avoid the roads and buildings since there is no evacuation point in my area,” Rizka said.
“I ran to the health center to grab everything that I would need – the ambulance and the cars to get people to the hospital. The next day I went back to get medicines and supplies to provide care in my area. I saw so many dead bodies that I went to the local military post to ask for help. I knew the hospitals would be full so there was no time to waste,” she said.
Central Sulawesi is identified on the government’s official disaster map as a region vulnerable to disasters. Rizka says the lesson she is taking away from this disaster is that Indonesia’s government needs to develop a disaster plan — not only at the provincial level but also in the villages. “This essential step would go a long way to help them prepare for future disasters,” said Rizka.