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Maui Wildfire Response: Medical Aid for Shelters, Mobile Clinics and First Responders

Medicines are being distributed across the island, as well as emergency funding for local groups providing medical care and search and rescue efforts.


Hawaii Fires

More than 1,800 pounds of requested medical supplies arrive on Maui on Aug. 12, 2023, for first responders working to provide medical care after last week's deadly fires. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

Direct Relief flew 1,800 lbs. of medical aid to Maui on Saturday, including pre-packed medical kits requested by local partners, respiratory medications, and other prescription and OTC medicines regularly needed by people displaced by wildfires and other disasters.

The organization is currently distributing medicines and medical supplies to sites across the island, including shelters, mobile medical clinics, and first responders.

Direct Relief is immediately disbursing $200,000 into four $50,000 grants to help fund operations by local medical responders.

  • Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i
  • Malama I Ke Ola Health Center (Community Clinic of Maui)
  • Maui Search and Rescue
  • Hui No Ke Ola Pono (Native Hawai’ian Health Center)

In a Sunday staff meeting on the Maui response, Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe advised team members to expect the Maui crisis to follow a pattern familiar from similar disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, Calif.

Amid the initial chaos, Direct Relief is focused on getting immediate medical aid and targeted financial support into the hands of health care providers on the ground. Because these disasters have years-long impacts, “the rule we use is, who is going to be there in five years?” Direct Relief starts with its long-term local partners, many of them community health centers.

Damage seen on Maui after catastrophic, wind-driven fires swept through the area. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

While federal and state aid is needed for clearing public areas and rebuilding infrastructure, it arrives slowly. Immediate needs are best met by fast-moving non-profits, Tighe said.

Immediate risks include chronic disease going unmanaged and turning into health crises, and loss of access to dialysis materials and insulin. In the longer term, experience shows that local health facilities can struggle to maintain services if many of their medical staff have been forced to relocate after losing their homes. Around 2,200 structures – approximately 86% of them residential – were destroyed or damaged in western Maui, Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green told CNN Saturday.

Direct Relief has been in contact with all 19 of its pre-existing healthcare partners across Hawai’i, has shared currently available inventory, and received their current assessments and perspectives.

The first three deliveries sent Wednesday were used immediately by medical personnel who deployed to shelters to provide services. These deliveries were in response to a request from the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i, which Direct Relief has been supporting through its Health Equity Fund.

The materials included a pre-packed wildfire kit and emergency medical packs (designed for paramedics and other health professionals to provide services in the field), requested over-the-counter pain relief and other basics, including hygiene items.

Direct Relief has been in close contact with individual clinics on Maui, Hawai’i state health and emergency response officials, with FEMA and other federal agencies, and with the professional associations that Direct Relief works with routinely, including the Society for Critical Care Medicine. Parallel efforts have been ongoing with healthcare company supporters and other corporate representatives who have sought information about how they might help.

Emergency Funding for Response Efforts

Direct Relief has also announced an initial cash commitment of $500,000 to aid affected communities and facilitate the timely and sustained delivery of urgently needed medical supplies to clinics, shelters, and state and local emergency response agencies with which it is working.

The wildfires in Lahaina – the deadliest disaster in Hawai’ian history – have resulted in the loss of over 2,000 structures and claimed the lives of more than 80 individuals. With thousands seeking refuge in shelters across Maui and Honolulu, Direct Relief is actively addressing the pressing medical needs of these evacuees and aiding search and rescue operations.

The organization’s initial deliveries of emergency medical essentials were deployed in shelters in Maui earlier this week, and Direct Relief staff today are delivering additional requested medical essentials to Maui.

Today’s shipment includes numerous wildfire kits. These kits, developed in consultation with medical and emergency-response experts, aim to prevent emergency room visits during significant wildfire events. They contain vital medications including inhalers, nebulizer solutions, irrigation solutions, antibiotics, analgesics, wound care products, and chronic disease medications.

Direct Relief has a long history of responding to wildfires, and refined a wildfire response kit that can be quickly dispatched to first responders on the ground. The kit contains PPE, repiratory medications, opthalmic treatments, chronic disease medications, and more. A wildfire response kit was shipped Wednesday to Health Mothers, Health Babies Coalition of Hawai’i, which is deploying to shelters and communities impacted by fires. (Photo by Erin Feinblatt for Direct Relief)

Beyond the immediate risks of burns, wildfires can exacerbate pre-existing health issues. Airborne particulates can worsen respiratory or cardiovascular problems, even sending those affected to the emergency room, and people with chronic conditions can face acute medical crises if they evacuate without their medications.

At the request of Maui Search and Rescue, Direct Relief is also dispatching 20 emergency medical backpacks to bolster on-the-ground relief efforts.

Based on years of disaster response experience, the packs are tailored for paramedics and health professionals to use in the field and are the standard for the State of California’s Medical Reserve Corps.

Direct Relief has also made available its medical inventory, valued at over $300 million wholesale, to healthcare providers across Hawai’i.

How Direct Relief Responds to Disasters

Direct Relief’s approach to disasters relies on long-standing collaborations with vetted local groups serving vulnerable communities. Their expertise, community trust, and existing protocols provide a foundation for the organization’s activities.

Over the past ten years, Direct Relief has provided local Hawai’ian organizations with 15.6 tons of medical resources totaling 415,305 defined daily doses of medicine, as well as $2.14 million in grant funding.
With a history of responding to wildfires across the United States, Direct Relief also is leveraging its expertise and technological resources for this crisis.

The organization’s data-driven tools, such as wildfire mapping applications and the CrisisReady initiative in partnership with Harvard, offer insights into wildfire risks and social vulnerability. Such tools inform emergency response officials and assist Direct Relief in its targeted efforts.

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