As Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas, the chief operating officer of Global Medical Response, which completed almost 5 million patient transports around the world last year, knew that the islands would need assistance.
“Really quickly we were notified that their ambulances were destroyed and that they had no infrastructure left,” Ted Van Horne said to Direct Relief.
In response, GMR started pulling assets from Trinidad and Florida to respond to the burgeoning crisis, which included putting four of their reserve ambulances from Florida on a cargo ship to Nassau. These vehicles were then placed on C-130 airplane and flown to the Abacos Islands.
“Similar to Puerto Rico after Maria, all of a sudden when people need to get to the hospital most urgently, they can’t, whether because of impassable roads or because their vehicles are flooded or flipped over,” said Andrew MacCalla, vice president of emergency response for Direct Relief.
Both Van Horne and MacCalla, as emergency response veterans, were aware of the high stakes related to ensuring that healthcare providers and residents of the islands have access to medical supplies and support systems in the wake of a storm like Dorian.
Several academic research papers since Hurricane Katrina have documented the impact of interrupted health services after disasters.
One such paper published last year, “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria,” funded by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and others, found that the mortality rate on that island increased by 62% in the months after the storm, compared to the previous year.
“In our survey, interruption of medical care was the primary cause of sustained high mortality rates in the months after the hurricane,” the authors of the study wrote, citing that chronic disease care often relies on complex machines that rely on electricity, as well as consistent access to pharmaceutical treatments.
A week after the storm hit, GMR sent an additional four vehicles to the Bahamas, which featured advanced capabilities such as cardiac response equipment and vital sign monitors. Those vehicles were also stocked with critical medical supplies donated by Direct Relief. As with the ambulance shipment, Direct Relief’s 3,400-pound donation was coordinated with the Bahamas’ Ministry of Health and included requested items such as IV fluids, tape, syringes, gowns, gloves, and catheters, as well as essential medicines.
The vehicles are set to play a key role in the long-term recovery of the Abacos and nearby islands, which Van Horne said face a “daunting” path to recovery, due to their isolation. Even with the many powerful hurricanes that GMR has responded to in recent years, Van Horne said Dorian stands out for both its power and the impact it had on the Bahamas.
“The Bahamas was a different story… This one is complete devastation and there was nowhere to go,” he said. “Each of these islands are going to have a different recovery. All the infrastructure of those islands is destroyed.”
Speaking about their response moving forward, Van Horne said the main goal is to make sure healthcare services remain available as the rebuilding process takes place in the months, and even years, ahead.
“It’s really about trying to get some stability. Having physical vehicles there to move patients to get them to basic medical care is critical,” Van Horne said.