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After the Fires, Providing Community Care in Maui

Prenatal care was limited on Maui before the fires, but groups like Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai'i are stepping up to fill the gap.


Hawaii Fires

Groups like Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai'i have received emergency medical backpacks from Direct Relief for triage care. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

Last Friday, Jacquelyn Ingram and several of her colleagues began assisting residents who were facing Maui’s ongoing wildfires.

Thousands are relying on evacuation shelters across the island, and medical and social workers like Ingram are working with first responders and other volunteers to ensure residents have access to care and necessities in the aftermath of the deadliest wildfires in the U.S. over the past century.

The women of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i (HMHB) and the nonprofit’s partners have arrived at the site of the wildfire by jet ski, boat, and car to help those in need. Direct Relief has funded the group with a $50,000 emergency operating grant and has also shipped requested medicines to the group.

Staff from Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i arrive in the harbor at Lahaina with emergency medical backpacks from Direct Relief for triage care. (Kari Wheeling)

Three wildfires sparked on Aug. 8, scorching Maui’s Lahaina community, and the death toll has exceeded 100 people. However, officials say that number will likely grow over the next few days.

Ingram and her colleagues set up a medical hub through the nonprofit’s solar-powered medical unit. Their team has visited several aid sites since Friday morning to support people who have evacuated their homes or need medical assistance. The program director said that power is out in several places, and volunteers have relied on text messages to communicate, given the inconsistent broadband service.

HMHB works to improve access to maternal and child health. They support residents statewide, mostly through social service programs around tobacco cessation, providing safe sleep measures through cribs, food distributions, mental health services, and hosting community doula trainings.

Over the last few days, HMHB visited several women who had recently given birth and needed supplies for one-week-old babies. Ingram told Direct Relief that residents had requested birth control, pregnancy tests, manual breast pumps, and diapers, among other items. They reinforce therapeutic communication to lessen the amount of trauma to survivors of the fires and work with an emergency room physician and a registered behavioral health nurse.

There was a lack of access to prenatal and obstetric care before the wildfires began, with Maui’s only private obstetrics practice planning to end services this Fall and focus on gynecology as a cost-saving measure. According to the local station Hawai’i News Now, residents who don’t have Kaiser insurance and who are in need of prenatal care will visit a federally qualified health center, Malama I Ke Ola Health Center, which Direct Relief is also supporting with an emergency operating grant of $50,000 and essential medicines.

While most have left the more severe areas of the fire, Ingram said there are many long-term effects that residents will face moving forward. Many have endured smoke inhalation and extreme heat; others will be forced to find alternative housing and leave their families or communities of support.

“Imagine what it’s like to go through that experience,” Ingram said. “But what I think we can do is to utilize our critical skills and strong partnerships to really try and get assistance to people right away. And I want people to know that it’s available to them whether it’s prescription medications, doing prenatal care, or post-partum care.”

Direct Relief has provided Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i a $50,000 emergency operating grant to support their operations as they respond to the wildfires in Maui. Direct Relief has also provided them with emergency medical backpacks for triage care, and fulfilled requests for essential medications. The organization also received $475,000 in funding from Direct Relief’s Fund for Health Equity.

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