Just days after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10, 2017.
Ahead of the storm, Direct Relief reached out to health clinics across Florida and the Caribbean and pre-positioned emergency medicines and supplies throughout the Gulf coast, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, which proved invaluable when Harvey hit as well.
As significant storm surge and flooding continued to impact those communities throughout subsequent recovery efforts, with Hurricanes Jose, Katia, and Maria on Irma’s heels, Direct Relief responded to those in need.
How Direct Relief Responded
Helping the Most Vulnerable
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Direct Relief focused its relief efforts on the health facilities that serve people who rely on the healthcare safety net for essential services. The organization coordinated with more than 70 health-care partners in Florida and Puerto Rico, such as the Florida Association of Community Health Centers and the Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico. It has been critical in the storm’s aftermath to support existing nonprofit community clinics and health centers that provide services to the people who are most vulnerable. That’s why Direct Relief has made the charitable resources so generously given by private supporters available to safety-net facilities on the front lines in these communities.
The people who receive care at these nonprofit safety-net clinics and health centers — along with the facilities themselves — are least able to financially absorb this type of blow and face the most difficult challenges bouncing back. These facilities and their patients need help during this critical recovery period, as well as assistance to sustain and serve the same people in the same communities one year from disaster, five years from it, and beyond.
Extending the Reach of Relief
Direct Relief partnered with the Florida Association of Community Health Centers to better help people in need. Direct Relief staff coordinated efforts in Florida with the organization, whose member health centers operate more than 480 health sites throughout the state, providing primary care services to more than 1.4 million residents annually. Direct Relief has worked closely with FACHC to furnish more than $45.3 million in medical material aid and financial assistance to health centers and free clinics in the state.
As Direct Relief and partner clinics in Florida prepared for Hurricane Irma’s landfall, they used Esri mapping capabilities to identify areas of social vulnerability near the storm’s path and community clinics. This helped the organization better plan and target its response.
As Hurricane Irma moved toward the Florida coast, some communities were more at risk than others.
Bolstering Front-Line Responders With Supplies
Direct Relief’s pre-positioned hurricane modules were stationed in 14 Florida communities impacted by the storm, as well as in locations throughout the Caribbean. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Direct Relief has annually pre-positioned specially designed emergency health stockpiles to care for displaced residents. These stockpiles are sent to nonprofit community health center partners throughout Florida and other states subject to hurricanes, and facilities can open their packs for storm response at any time.
As Hurricane Irma approached, Direct Relief deployed a module of emergency medications from its warehouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Cap-Haïtien, anticipating Irma’s projected path and potential for flooding on the northern side of the country. The module was placed at Justinien University Hospital, with enough emergency medicines and supplies to treat 1,000 patients. Direct Relief coordinated with longtime partner Konbit Sante to determine a safe location to store the medications. The hospital’s new pediatric building, constructed to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake and elevated 10 feet above ground to avoid flooding, was deemed one of the safest locations in the region.
On September 11, 2017, nearly 8,000 pounds of urgently needed medical items, including antibiotics, surgical and wound-care supplies were delivered to health facilities. Direct Relief also coordinated with the Pan American Health Organization on shipments to Anguilla and Tortola, with offers of assistance sent to officials in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos. Direct Relief also kicked off a wave of shipments bound for the Dominican Republic, with 15 pallets of medical aid in the first one. And 4 pallets of requested medical supplies were quickly en route to Haiti, with a larger shipment destined for clinics in need on Haiti’s northern coast.
On September 15, 2017, a FedEx MD-10 plane was loaded in Memphis, Tennessee, with more than $11 million’s worth of medicines and supplies to assist people and communities affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida, Anguilla, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands. The cargo jet also carried more than 4,000 hygiene kits for Heart to Heart International, employee relief supplies, and generators. After the relief supplies were unloaded in Miami, more than 150 dogs and cats from Miami-area shelters were loaded onto the jet. The animals were flown to Oakland, California, under the auspices of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where they were brought to no-kill shelters at the Marin Humane Society and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington for eventual adoption. The ASPCA helped transport more than 1,000 animals out of communities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as provided search-and-rescue and sheltering assistance.
The special relief flight was part of the FedEx Cares initiative, through which FedEx will invest $200 million in more than 200 global communities by 2020 to create opportunities and deliver positive change around the world.
A Smart Response Begins with Prep
Direct Relief is the only nonprofit licensed to distribute prescription medications in all 50 U.S. states. Between the 2016 and 2017 hurricane seasons, Direct Relief delivered 5,000 shipments to its network of more than 1,400 nonprofit clinics and health centers nationwide, making it the largest charitable program in the U.S. providing free medications and supplies to health centers treating low-income patients without insurance.
On September 14, 2017, Direct Relief announced the creation of the Hurricane Community Health Fund, a collaboration among the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, the National Association of Community Health Centers, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, and Direct Relief, which manages the fund. Similar to a fund established after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this fund will be used solely to benefit hurricane-affected communities and people, particularly among the most vulnerable populations.
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