Pharmacist receives national honor for disaster work

Award honors Mel Mastrodomenico for 23 years of leadership, vision, service and commitment

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

May 16, 2011

Emilio Mastrodomenico

Emilio (Mel) Mastrodomenico said the adrenaline rush and the chance to help people are the reasons he was always the first to volunteer as team pharmacist for the Massachusetts-2 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (MA-2 DMAT). A consultant pharmacist and drug utilization reviewer for Commonwealth Medicine’s Clinical Pharmacy Services, he has been deployed 26 times over the past 23 years to some of the worst disaster scenes: the World Trade Center, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and—most recently—Haiti. 

At the age of 81, Mastrodomenico is reluctantly acknowledging his limitations. With gentle prodding from his children, who are proud of what he does but concerned that he needs to slow down, he tried to resign from his post recently. But MA-2 DMAT Commander Gina Smith convinced him to take a “semi-retirement,” knowing how valuable, and how dedicated, Mastrodomenico is to the team.

“It means I can pick and choose my assignment,” said Mastrodomenico with a laugh. As a member of the on-call, volunteer MA-2 DMAT team that can assemble a self-sufficient medical unit for deployment within 24 hours, he’s usually the first to submit his availability. “Doing this job makes you feel good, like there’s a reason for living. I look forward to helping people.” 

Mastrodomenico was recently honored for his 23 years of dedication to DMAT, receiving the National Disaster Medical System’s (NDMS) Thomas J. Shepardson Leadership Award on May 3 in Grapevine, Texas. The award, which is given annually, recognizes his leadership, vision, service and commitment.

“Our team and our nation are lucky to have Mel involved in NDMS,” said Commander Smith. “Mel is a resourceful, creative and solution-oriented person and he’s come up with innovative approaches to patient care during disasters.” 

Mastrodomenico has been a pharmacist since 1952, and his role with DMAT is a crucial one, as a pharmacist is required to dispense medicine in the medical treatment areas set up in disaster zones. Many pharmacists aren’t able to pick up and leave for the two-week DMAT deployments, which happen without warning. His work flexibility, and an understanding family, allowed him to be instrumental to the growth and development of DMAT. 

His most recent deployment, to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, was the toughest, he admitted. The conditions, and the typical 12-hour days DMAT members worked, were challenging. Although he ended up becoming dehydrated and needing treatment himself, he was happy to be there to help. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to go to many places, and they were all different experiences,” said Mastrodomenico. “Every time there was need, it just got my adrenaline flowing. I’d just do it.”