When a disaster strikes any area, people mainly concern themselves with the physical hazards to healthcare during the event. Many tend to overlook the obstacles that patients face after the storm has passed. A hurricane as devastating as the ones we have seen recently can destroy the healthcare system in a community in many ways. Flooding and damaged infrastructure can delay or prevent the delivery of medications, medical supplies, and other essential materials. Delayed access to medication and healthcare services and put patients in critical situations. The response to these critical situations must be urgent and effective.
One of the many ways our dual activation for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma was unique was in the many requests for assistance we received directly from patients and healthcare (relief) organizations.. Patients calling our hotline and emailing our alerts account were often patients with chronic conditions who were having challenges accessing the lifesaving medicines they needed. We received countless calls from patients trying to refill insulin, or to replace their heart medication, or even just find a pharmacy. Many were exhausted, and called because they knew they needed help, but did not know where to start.
In addition to direct patient requests, we also received dozens of requests from healthcare facilities and shelters. Requests poured in from dialysis facilities, pharmacies, and shelters needing oxygen tanks, syringes, and other medical equipment. These requests proved difficult to remedy due to the extreme weather conditions such as flooding and storm surges. Working with our various NGO partners such as Americares, Direct Relief International, American Logistics Aid Network and KCER allowed us to secure medicine and supplies for patients in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
The large amounts of requests for assistance were no surprise during these events. Extreme weather events inhibit the healthcare process and require responders to act fast and efficiently. It was impressive to see people and organizations come together during the response to coordinate on conference calls, deliveries, and requests for assistance. Without these efforts, thousands of patients would have restricted access to healthcare and the number of fatalities would rise. During our response efforts, I noticed how public health is greatly affected by these disasters well after the storms have passed. The aftermath of these events bring issues such as water contamination, changes in vector ecology, degradation of the environment, lack of food, and more. In many ways the after math of a disaster can prove to be more difficult for patients and providers.
Responding to requests for assistance and information has been a key part of our response to these extreme weather events. We were proud to be featured in an NBC Washington news segment highlighting our work and our relief efforts during these unprecedented weather events. Being able to bridge the gap between patients and their basic healthcare needs has made all the difference during this unique response.