Maricopa Emergency Management System Alert

Dental Assisting Adjunct Faculty Receives Civilian Service Medal

Suzanne Black holding her Civilian Service Medal a quote by NDMS director Michael Smith

Suzanne Black, Adjunct Faculty in Dental Assisting at Phoenix College (PC), received the COVID-19 Pandemic Civilian Service Medal for exemplary service to the nation as part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) during the federal medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Black is a member of the NDMS Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, Region IX (DMORT-IX). 

"It all began at Phoenix College," said Suzanne about her work as a Forensic Dental Assistant for the NDMS. This federal program supports communities with medical care, veterinary care, and mortuary assistance during disasters or public health emergencies at the request of states. NDMS is among the resources made available by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). 

"I attended PC's Dental Assisting (DA) program in 1996. During my time in the program, Dental Forensics was introduced," Suzanne said. Dr. John Piakis, a member of DMORT-IX and founder of the Arizona Mass Disaster Dental Identification Team, was a guest speaker at PC. His presentation on forensic dentistry made an impact on Suzanne. She kept showing up to volunteer with the local disaster team and eventually filled out paperwork and had her fingerprints taken to become an intermittent Federal employee working as a Forensic Dental Assistant. "My whole life began when I graduated from [PC's Dental Assisting] program."  

Suzanne has been on the NDMS team for 26 years. On the multi-disciplinary team, dental identification is just one of the services needed in a disaster; others include medical, legal, pathology, fingerprinting, and family assistance. "It's a job that requires a lot of flexibility because each deployment is so different," she said. Her first deployment was to the World Trade Center after 9/11. Other deployments included Hurricane Katrina, where she helped to identify thousands of remains. During the pandemic, the NDMS team was deployed to Travis Air Force Base to support the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in assisting cruise ship passengers during mandatory 14-day quarantines. The team monitored the families for COVID symptoms and supported passengers who were confined to their rooms.  

Ms. Black received her service medal during the National Disaster Medical System Training Summit. The medal was awarded to responders who deployed for 30 consecutive or 60 cumulative days to provide medical care to state, territory, tribal, and local partners. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic strained our country's health care system and medical personnel for almost three years," said NDMS Director Michael Smith. "Ms. Black and her NDMS colleagues served as a lifeline to hundreds of hospitals and long-term care facilities by providing temporary relief to staff, adding bed capacity, and improving outcomes for COVID-19 patients, as well as assistance to local Medical Examiner's and Coroner's offices. This medal is reflective of her self-less commitment to the public health and medical needs of our residents." 

Since the start of the pandemic, NDMS has conducted more than 1,800 support missions and deployed thousands of medical, logistical, and command and control personnel from NDMS to help nearly 50 states, territories, and jurisdictions respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, NDMS teams stand ready to provide medical surge support should a resurgence of COVID-19 occur this winter. NDMS teams also remain on call to deploy after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, or wildfire. 

In addition to her work with NDMS, Suzanne has been an Adjunct Faculty in the Dental Assisting program for 20 years, teaching Oral Health Medical Emergencies and serving as a clinical externship mentor. She encourages her dental students to "just show up," like she did 26 years ago for the disaster team. "When you show up for your life, you find purpose." She finds her disaster work "a great way to serve my country as a civilian."  

To learn more about HHS’ response to COVID-19, please visit https://aspr.hhs.gov/COVID-19/.

For more information about ASPR and NDMS, visit https://aspr.hhs.gov/NDMS/.

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