Riverdale grad leading disaster response team in New York
Photo from RCS Facebook

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Rutherford County native and Riverdale alum Dr. Elliott Tenpenny is leading a Disaster Assistance Response Team of more than 70 medical professionals from Samaritan’s Purse in setting up and managing a field hospital in New York’s Central Park as the city braces for a surge in the coronavirus outbreak.

With a capacity of 68 beds, the 14-tent respiratory care unit was hauled to New York in six tractor-tailors from North Carolina. The equipment arrived early Saturday morning and after four days of round-the-clock work, the temporary facility began seeing patients Wednesday morning.

Tenpenny’s team of doctors, nurses, other medical personnel and relief specialists have been working with the help of 20 local volunteers, including electrical and civil engineers, water and sanitation workers and construction experts.

Tenpenny is not sure how long the field hospital will be utilized.

“As long as there is a need,” said Tenpenny, who suggested two or three months, but added, “We just don’t know yet.”

Samaritan’s Purse was asked to help with the pandemic and has partnered with Mount Sinai Health System, which is located east of the park on 5th Avenue between 98th and 102nd streets. In recent days, hospitals across New York’s five boroughs have been overwhelmed with more than 43,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

A second team of medical experts from Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, have set up a field hospital in Italy.

“It’s a scary thing, but it’s nothing to be hysterical about,” Tenpenny assured. “It’s nothing to fear. We have to respect these kinds of diseases and take proper precautions. It’s not something that warrants hysteria. It’s also not something that warrant’s dismissal. It’s not nothing. It’s something and it is something that is going to change our lives. It’s going to change the way we live and that’s just the way it is. People need to respect the authorities and do the appropriate precautions that are being recommended.”

In spite of the growing crisis in New York, Tenpenny described the atmosphere as positive and noted, “there are a lot of good spirits” at the field location.

Having overseen the completion of the setup, Tenpenny said the medical staff will now take over and as of April 1 the unit was open for patients suffering from COVID-19.

Tenpenny will take the lead on all administrative issues and is making sure everything at the field hospital is “moving along and that all things are being done correctly.” He will also make time to treat patients on a daily basis.

Tenpenny has been with Samaritan’s Purse for seven years.

In the past, Tenpenny was in West Africa for the Ebola outbreak and treated earthquake victims in Ecuador. He also spent two years with the organization serving in the Congo.

His specialty is emergency medicine.

After graduating from Riverdale High School in 2001, he attended Middle Tennessee State University before attending the University of Memphis medical school, where he graduated in 2009.

Tenpenny never imagined this type of situation in the United States, much less New York City.

“It’s been crazy to see,” said Tenpenny, who added, “I am proud to be part of this. We do this work in Jesus’ name. We set out to do this because it’s what we were called to do.

“We’re blessed to be part of what we’re doing. Blessed to be able to go into the hardest hit areas and really be able to serve in Jesus’ name and to bring hope to people who are struggling.”

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