Five years ago Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged coastal communities throughout the Gulf Coast, affecting over one million people and resulting in the largest natural disaster in U.S. history. Direct Relief International was one of the first nonprofit relief organizations to respond. Within one week, through its Direct Relief USA program, the organization furnished over $10 million in medical material aid and cash grants to support the community clinics and health centers throughout the region that serve as the healthcare safety net for low-income and uninsured persons. Within one month, from its warehouse in Santa Barbara, California, Direct Relief had made 95 emergency shipments to 65 clinics and other health facilities. The emergency revealed a vast unmet need for medical aid in the Gulf States and to date, Direct Relief has provided over $85 million in ongoing support to the region.
With Katrina as a catalyst, Direct Relief USA is now the largest and only nonprofit program of its kind to distribute donated medical supplies and medicines free of charge to community clinics and health centers in all 50 U.S. States serving low-income and uninsured people.
Heroic Health Care by Community Clinics and Health Centers
Direct Relief International, primarily known for its 60-plus years of work as an international relief organization, provided major response in the Gulf States so that community health providers could treat local patients and evacuees. In the days that followed Katrina, local health centers provided care to more than 37,170 evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi, close to 80% of whom had no health insurance.
“Your support during Hurricane Katrina was a godsend to us,” said U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., when she was executive director of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. “We could not have moved from the shelter to the trailer without your help and the continued help afterwards. I am very grateful to Direct Relief.”
In the months following Katrina, Direct Relief joined with the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), and their respective state associations throughout the region to identify and support clinics under strain from surging patient visits.
Five Years Later – Direct Relief USA
The success of Direct Relief’s emergency response to Katrina became a catalyst for this major expansion of the Direct Relief USA program to improve access to healthcare for low-income and uninsured persons. Direct Relief USA continues this assistance today through its Safety Net Inventory Support Program, which provides medical aid to clinics, health centers, and social service agencies across the U.S.
To expand its support to the U.S. safety-net providers, Direct Relief became a licensed pharmacy distributor or wholesaler in each state in the Gulf region, and is now licensed in all 50 U.S. States.
“Direct Relief responded swiftly to our needs as we struggled to provide health care to hundreds of evacuees,” said Michael Andry, CEO of EXCELth, a New Orleans-based nonprofit, which lost four of its six sites from Katrina. “More importantly, they remain an excellent partner still and continue to be engaged in the public health needs of low-income underserved people in New Orleans still struggling years after the disaster.”
Since inception in 2004, Direct Relief USA has provided more than $200 million in assistance in the United States, with nearly half of that delivered to community clinics and health centers in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In the past five years, Direct Relief has provided to the Gulf region:
• 1,782 emergency and ongoing monthly shipments valued at $85,040,300 to more than 200 health centers, clinics, and social service organizations
• Support enabling care for more than 1.6 million people in 2005
• $4.7 million in emergency cash grants
• Participation in Hurricane Preparedness Program (since 2007), Safety Net Inventory Support program, Schering Plough Provential inhaler distribution, Teva ProAir inhaler distribution, BD Needle and Syringe distribution, and Roche Diabetes program
Emergency Preparedness for Hurricanes
In 2006, Direct Relief and Abbott initiated a plan to pre-position highly-needed medications and medical supplies to be deployed in the event of a hurricane. The Direct Relief USA Hurricane Preparedness Program increases the rapid-response capacity of health providers in areas located in hurricane-prone areas and along potential mass evacuation routes in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
Direct Relief now works with several of its pharmaceutical donor companies to pre-position Hurricane Prep Packs and other emergency products in the event of another disaster and maintains a standing relationship with FedEx to assist in shipping and logistics. The Prep Packs are provided free of charge to the healthcare facilities.
Direct Relief’s U.S. and International Hurricane Preparedness Program, serving Central America and the Caribbean, including Haiti, has become the largest medical Hurricane Preparedness Program focused on vulnerable populations.
In August 2007, NACHC honored Direct Relief for their unprecedented assistance to Community Health Centers and their patients in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe was also a participant in the 2006 “Pharmaceutical Blue Ribbon Task Force” convened by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Recovery from a major event like Hurricane Katrina is a long-term process. Direct Relief is committed now more than ever to delivering medical aid needed here at home in the U.S.