When the phones rang in Healthcare Ready’s Emergency Operations Center during this year’s hurricane season, the voice on the other end of the line was sometimes a government agency or one of our partner healthcare organizations. But, very often, the call was from individual patients and families who needed our help.
Whether it was guiding a diabetic patient to a healthcare facility to refill insulin while his normal pharmacy was closed, arranging transportation for an elderly patient with kidney failure to an open dialysis center, or helping a displaced family locate medicine for their sick child, our direct work with patients presented different, yet significant challenges. During our 70+ days of activation, our team worked around the clock to get healthcare supply chain operations back up and running in disaster areas. And for the patients who fell through the cracks, we worked to provide a variety of direct, hands-on assistance to patients affected by this year’s unprecedented winds and flood waters.
We triaged over 1,000 patient requests for assistance, meaning we were constantly receiving calls and were often on the phones with multiple patients at once. The phone wasn’t the only way we received requests – they came through social media, email, and even batches of requests from non-profit partners in the form of lists and spreadsheets. We helped patients refill medicines and find the nearest available healthcare services, but we also assisted with non-healthcare related questions, such as shelter information. While we helped connect patients experiencing life-threatening emergencies to on-the-ground emergency responders, In many cases, the emotional support we provided seemed to be the most valuable. Being able just to tell someone what they were going through, to have a sympathetic ear, often had a healing affect.
After receiving a patient’s call, our team quickly collected as much information from them as possible. We asked for basic contact information as well as their present location if they were displaced from the hurricanes. We then addressed their healthcare information, including which medicines they were currently taking, how much (if any) they had left, and when they needed to be resupplied.
We were able to quickly help many patients by using Rx Open, which allowed us to pin-point open pharmacies within their location. Other patients required more attention, such as those who were running low on their medicines or who needed a refill of a controlled substance.
No matter the patients’ reason for calling, we stayed in contact with them until we confirmed they were able to acquire needed medicines and/or treatments. Sometimes this meant weeks of follow-up calls (that often went unanswered) until we could ensure they were safe and healthy. Even now, we continue to follow-up with patients in Puerto Rico where their road to recovery remains uncertain.
Some patients called with more complex issues, such as those without insurance coverage and/or in life-threatening situations. Still others needed more personal support, such as one woman who called every day for 25-40 minutes simply because she was alone and needed a helping voice to calm her down and ground her during the confusion and instability.
Our assistance to individual patients would not have been possible without the help of our private sector partners. They were always responsive and instrumental in keeping patients healthy and safe by refilling medications or providing insurance coverage.
Above all, the 2017 hurricane season was a powerful reminder that, above all else, people are the heart of what Healthcare Ready does every day. We are grateful for the opportunity we had to help individual communities and patients stay resilient and safe during this year’s disasters, and we stand ready to help thousands more during future emergencies.