Dr. Howard Levinson treats patients in areas devastated by disasters

For Howard Levinson, DC, DABFP, treating patients doesn’t occur in the comfort of a practice or clinic. Instead, his chiropractic skills are put to use in areas that have been devastated by disasters.

Organized under the Department of Health and Human Services/National Disaster Medical System, Dr. Levinson has served for the past 14 years as a member of a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), which includes members from Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

Most recently, he was deployed to Puerto Rico to help in the catastrophic aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that tore through the island on Sept. 20, 2017. As a member of DMAT, Dr. Levinson supports logistical operations. As a chiropractor, he often uses those skills to care for members of the DMAT team, which is comprised of medical and paraprofessional medical personnel, including medical doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and pharmacists.

“DMATs are designed for a rapid response to supplement or restore medical services to areas where a disaster has limited the region’s ability to provide care to its residents,” he said. “We typically will be mobilized before the incident occurs, if possible, and stage somewhere nearby. After the storm passes, we move into the area. We usually function in austere conditions and are intended to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.”

A former police officer and paramedic for nearly 30 years, Dr. Levinson had reached a turning point in his career. He was pursuing physical therapy when he started seeing a chiropractor by the name of Dr. George Goodman. “He said, ‘You know, you could be a chiropractor.’ Seeing that I had been pretty allopathic my whole life, I researched chiropractic and it appealed to me as an alternative to working in a hospital,” Dr. Levinson said.

Dr. Levinson graduated from Logan in 1984. It would be nearly 20 years before another turning point in his career—this time, it was watching disaster medical teams respond after 9/11.

Since joining DMAT in 2003, Dr. Levinson’s assignments have taken him to sites ranging from political conventions to natural disasters. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, his DMAT team received a federal deployment activation order within 72 hours.

“Our first mission was to go to a hospital in Arecibo, which had inadequate power and no water,” Dr. Levinson said. “The hospital generators were still partially working so we set up an on-site ER triage. Their power supply became unreliable, so we stayed until they were back on the grid and received two backup generators. We were then sent to a federal medical shelter house in a sports stadium where we set up ER triage stations in tents. In one day, we treated 170 people.”

On site for three weeks, Dr. Levinson said it was close to the worst he’s ever seen, adding that he was redeployed for another two weeks in November. “Health care delivery services in Puerto Rico were improving, but additional staff and resources were helpful,” he said.

Despite the devastation and working conditions, being a part of DMAT is something Dr. Levinson feels he was called to do. “I require some kind of episodic infusion of adrenaline and risk-taking, so I look forward to deployments to fill that need. Not only do I get to fill that void, I get to render some desperately needed assistance to people who are in the most dire circumstances of their life.”


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