From hurricanes to high-security events—how surgery aide Joe Skinner answers the call to serve
When Joe Skinner takes a break from his job as a surgery aide at Hennepin Healthcare, he’s often headed to a coastal city—but not for a restful beach vacation. Instead he’s flying straight toward a hurricane.
For the past 18 years, Joe has served with the National Disaster Medical System as part of a team that activates to respond to national disasters. This year, he was his team’s nominee for the Jack Beall Responder of the Year Award. The person who nominated Joe, a longtime teammate, said he is an “irreplaceable source of emergency-services knowledge,” that he “inspires trust and confidence,” and that “his years of voluntary, continuing education in Disaster Management reflects his unsurpassed devotion to his position on the team.”
Joe’s interest in disaster relief dates back to his teenage years and over the years, he took emergency management training to prepare himself to join a formal team. In 2004, the state of Florida was slammed by four hurricanes in six weeks and Joe headed to Florida as part of a Citizen Corp (CERT) deployment.
After that three-week deployment, Joe was encouraged to apply for the State of Minnesota’s federal medical disaster team, MN-1 DMAT. He quickly applied and joined the team in October of 2004. Since then, he’s deployed to emergencies, national disasters and high-security events across the country—wherever his help is needed.
Disaster medical assistance teams like MN-1 DMAT include members who may be doctors, registered nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, and information technologists. Most of them, like Joe, have other jobs. The team is on call for 30 days every three months with their bags packed—ready to pick up and leave at any time.
Joe serves as a logistics/healthcare technician on the MN-1 DMAT team—which he says “allows me the best of both worlds.” He can work as a clinician at the EMT or medical assistant level and is actively involved with selecting sites for field hospitals, setting them up, tearing them down, and managing landing zones for helicopter evacuations.
Joe has served through Type 1 disasters—Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Delta, Dorian, Harvey, and Sandy. When a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, was overwhelmed by a COVID-19 surge, Joe and his team showed up to help them through. Joe has also served on the medical team at high-security events, like the funeral of Senator John McCain and at the Republican National Convention when it was held in St. Paul. Joe’s last mission was a two-and-a-half week cache rehab mission to repair and maintain a national stockpile of disaster equipment and to serve on a medical team at a national Fourth of July event.
When Joe was deployed to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, his team flew in on a C-17 plane—the only plane that flew into Kennedy Airport that day. They quickly embedded in Queens, helping nursing home patients and working with the National Guard to rescue elderly people from projects and triage their medical needs. Joe, who used to live in Brooklyn, even gave his bus driver directions when the driver lost their way.
As he marks 18 years with his bag packed for any disaster, Joe is once again ready to serve through another hurricane season and to help communities through hard times. As his nomination put it, “time has proved that Joe’s tactful, positive manner quickly gains respect for MN-1 DMAT and motivates others to put forth their best efforts.” Hennepin Healthcare Emergency Medicine Training Specialist Jean Tersteeg serves with Joe on the MN-1 DMAT team and says, “Joe is an absolute joy to work with—can always get you absolutely anything that you need. He is always positive and does anything and everything—a true asset to our team.”