Supporting Life and Health of Disaster Victims in Their EntiretiesSFrom Asuto-Nagamachi Temporary Housing Complex, Miyagi

Two years will have passed in March 2013 since the East Japan Great Earthquake. But the rehabilitation works in the affected areas are progressing only at a snail’s pace.
Concerned about the situation, many colleagues and fellow members of Min-Iren’s Kyodo-soshiki (affiliate organizations) are continuing to give support to the victims steadily, working closely together with them.
This issue of Itsudemo Genki brings you to Asuto-Nagamachi Temporary Housing Complex in Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, to which Nagamachi Hospital of Miyagi Min-Iren is giving support.

Youth Jamboree was the starting point

Since June 2012, Nagamachi Hospital has held a monthly health consultation at a meeting room inside this temporary housing complex, which is one of the biggest in Sendai, where 450 victims live in 233 temporary homes. They have come from all different locations hit by the disaster, including Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. Seventy per cent of the residents are above 60 years of age.
It was during Min-Iren’s “National Youth Jamboree” held in March 2012, that participating young min-Iren workers from around Japan visited the housing complex as part of their field works.
They checked the people’s health conditions and served lunch. They also visited door-to-door at the residents who rarely would go outside, and informed their community leaders of their findings.
Mr. Iizuka Masahiro, head of the residents’ association of the housing complex said, “Their visits made me realize the importance of observing our people from medical doctors’ viewpoints. We neighbors usually cannot find any physical problems by just looking at their complexion or give advice based on medial or pharmaceutical knowledge. Through the consultation and door-to-door visits, these doctors accurately grasped the problems facing the residents from the point of view of medical professionals, and helped us understand the worrying life styles or medical conditions some of them had. Unlike government officials who refuse to share such information with us on the pretext of protecting private information, these doctors appeared as ‘strong allies’ to us.”

Immediate and willing response

Soon, Mr. Iizuka officially requested Nagamachi Hospital to be engaged continuously in helping the residents in the temporary housings maintain their health. The request was met with a willing response of President Mizushiri Tsuyoshi of the hospital, who said, “Yes, we will” without any hesitation.
“As Asuto-Nagamachi Temporary Housing community was located within a walking distance of our hospital, we had been concerned about the people there. Upon receiving the request, we felt more than ready to be of help to them,” said Ms. Nagasawa Kinuyo, head of the nursing department of the hospital, and Ms. Hanaki Kayoko, chief of the home nursing section of the hospital’s Nursing Support Center. Thus, with President Mizushiri as the person in charge, the “Life Support Project” was launched with the participation of the hospital staffs of almost all job categories.
About 20 people come to be examined during the monthly health consultation at the temporary housing complex, held in cooperation with the residents’ association. The visitors welcome the occasion and say, “I can check my blood pressure and blood sugar level regularly,” or “I can talk about my problems here, which I cannot disclose even to my home doctor.”
Nagamachi Hospital staffs also listen carefully to the victims on their pains and sufferings in a kind and attentive manner. “Many victims are feeling severe psychological stress, after they have lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami and having have to live in a distant place from their home. Our consultation seems to be providing an outlet for their stress,” Ms. Nagasawa said.
Health professionals sometimes ask the leaders of the residents’ association to be brought to the people who seem to be having difficulties, including those withdrawn at home or suffering from senile dementia. They take time to listen to them and give treatment at their home if necessary.

Growing trust and expectation

Ms. Nagasawa said, “We will continue to give help to them and prevent them from getting their health condition deteriorated or dying unattended.” She has changed the fill-in form of health consultation into one that can record the history of changes in one’s condition. She is also planning to hold lecture meetings by health professionals to supplement their efforts.
Mr. Iizuka expressed his trust and expectation in the hospital’s efforts, saying, “Even now, we see an ambulance called to our community almost once a week. We would prefer to have the health consultation every other week, if possible. We hope Nagamachi Hospital people will be allowed to join the ‘Care Briefing’, where the information on the victims’ communities is shared with local government officials, so that they can be more deeply and comprehensively involved.”
On the other hand, he was also concerned. “We feel sorry that we are unable to give any reward for the time and human resources they dedicate to our care. The local government should evaluate their contribution fairly and provide some rewards or subsidy to the hospital.”

In a newly formed branch, a hula group starts

A new branch of Nagamachi Hospital Friends Association has been formed in the temporary housing complex. Ms. Akama Junko, former board member of Wakabayashi Health Friends Association, which is part of the same corporation that Nagamachi Hospital belongs to, took the lead in recruiting members of the branch. After the earthquake, she fled from Wakabayashi district of Sendai City.
In October 2011, about 6 months after she moved to Asuto-Nagamachi, she invited her old friends from Wakabayashi to form “Sawayaka (refreshing) branch”. People from more than 10 families joined it. They wanted to start something that can brighten people’s hearts, and they decided to start learning hula.
“All of us immediately became enthusiastic about it. It made me realize how hungry people were for something they could enjoy wholeheartedly, after such depressing experiences they have gone through,” Ms. Akama said. The hula group members gladly said, “It’s really good for my health, as I can move all parts of my body while dancing,” or “It seems as if hula stimulates my brain to function better.” The group practiced hard and performed in the New Year’s Festival of Nagamachi Hospital, and won a prize for best performance.

Tasting delivery meal menu in the branch meeting

Next up for Sawayaka branch’s agenda is the project of delivering meals to the elderly people living alone or in couples and having difficulty to go out for shopping. The meal delivery service has already been provided since 2006 by Hottotei, another volunteer group belonging to Nagamachi Hospital. They want to extend the coverage of delivery service to include Asuto-Nagamachi community.
On November 16, 2012, Ms. Terashima Tomoko, leader of Hottotei joined the branch meeting of Sawayaka, where they tasted the samples of box lunch to be delivered. All of 11 branch members were present at the meeting on that day, and together they tasted Harakomeshi (rice with salmon roe), broiled Spanish mackerel marinated in saikyo miso, boiled cabbage, etc.
Ms. Terashima used to work as a certified senior nutritionist at Nagamachi and other hospitals. She asserted, “We use fresh vegetables in season grown by local farmers, which are safe and secure. We cook every item on our own, after carefully checking the nutritional balance.” The members nodded to Ms. Terashima’s remarks while tasting the menu. They enjoyed the meal and said, “It’s a sophisticated taste and very good” and “I can recommend it to my neighbors with confidence.”

Sudden interviews by TV crew

During the branch meeting, a TV crew suddenly appeared to interview the members. It was the afternoon of that day that the House of Representatives of the Parliament was dissolved, and the TV crew asked each of them, “What is the most important policy issue to be staked in the upcoming general election?”
One of the members shouted, “No to the increase of consumption tax!” Other members echoed, saying, “We all agree” and “They should not raise tax at all.” The planned increase of consumption tax will weigh heavy not only on the daily life of the victims but also on their attempts to rebuild their homes.
Further, someone said, “I have friends who have fled from Minami-Soma City of Fukushima. I absolutely refuse any moves to promote nuclear power generation,” while another said, “Candidates should come over here even once to witness with their own eyes how the victims manage to survive.” The TV crewmembers seemed to be overwhelmed by the burst of anger expressed by them.
After they left, the discussion in the branch meeting focused on the causes of anxiety the members had at the moment. The biggest anxiety for everyone was the housing. Someone said woefully, “I had just completed my mortgage payment, when the tsunami washed away everything. At this age, I cannot afford to take out a new housing loan.”
Another serious concern is the ending of exemption for the disaster victims on their personal payment of medical expenses scheduled at the end of March 2013 (February 2013 for those from Fukushima). Ms. Konota Michiko said with an anxious look, “If I list up the problems in my health from head to toe, there’ll be no end to it. If I have to pay 20% of the medical fee at the hospital cashier, I just cannot get any more medical treatment.”

Sawayaka branch activities shining

Ms. Terashima was listening carefully to the discussion among the members of Sawayaka branch. After the meeting, she said, “I’ve learned that more supports are needed still to help the people here obtain seasonal clothes and household articles. They seem to be leading an austere life.” On the other hand, she observed the outstanding roles played by the members of fellow Min-Iren friends associations, who are working as bridges between people. She said, “I happened to drop by at this community the other day, when an evacuation drill was under way. The members of Sawayaka branch were undertaking leading parts in the drill. The members of this united and cheerful group seem to be playing a very positive and important role in maintaining this community of evacuees.” She expressed her hope for the future of the community, saying, “With the meal delivery service as a start, I do hope Sawayaka branch will become the core of the residents’ efforts to protect and support each other. While carrying out enjoyable activities and having fun, I’m sure they will have more colleagues to work together in mutual confidence.”

(Article by Takeda Tsutomu)