Nearly twelve years ago, members of the biopharmaceutical supply chain, including BIO, came together in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and partnered with the American Red Cross to form a coalition. The coalition was founded to resolve the coordination challenges witnessed during the Katrina response. This coalition was founded under the name Rx Response and is now Healthcare Ready.
Healthcare Ready is a national nonprofit that leverages unique relationships with government, nonprofit and medical supply chains to deliver on its mission of enhancing the resiliency of communities before, during and after disasters.
The motivating reason for our creation, and our continued existence today, is a recognition of the importance of seamlessly integrating private sector organizations into all parts of healthcare preparedness and response. When over 90% of critical healthcare infrastructure – from manufacturing and distribution facilities to pharmacies, dialysis centers, and other points of care – is owned and operated by the private sector, this kind of integration is needed, yet it remains a significant challenge.
The last eighteen months have underscored this notion, reminding us that weather events continue to pose real threats to public health and patients. From impacting the production of drugs and medical products to widespread damage of facilities causing patients to become disconnected from care, we continue to see natural disasters stress and fracture healthcare operations in countless ways. For example, during the Hurricane Harvey response, we coordinated with partners to make helicopter deliveries of medical supplies to Texas hospitals because flood waters created impassable roads. In Florida after Hurricane Irma, we worked to ensure patients dependent on oxygen tanks who couldn’t leave shelters until they knew their next destination – whether it was home or another care facility – had a resupply of oxygen. Due to flooding and the impacts of high water on power and transportation, these resupplies were challenge. In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, every facet of healthcare preparedness and emergency management was strained during the 2017 hurricane season. The challenges of responding to patient needs on an island manifested in myriad ways. For the first time, we worked with Federal partners to support a mass evacuation of dialysis patients by helping to secure wrapround services for over 200 evacuated dialysis patients and their caregivers.
In our role as healthcare emergency managers, we worked between the private and public sectors to help the helpers. Our team focused on connecting private sector resources to public (sector) needs throughout all three major storms. In each activation, we spent countless hours on the phone and on email connecting first responders and medical volunteers with donated services and supplies, including medicines, hygiene kits, over-the-counter supplies, and behavioral health services. Supporting first responders and those on the ground during a disaster is an important aspect of what we do, which would be impossible without the support from partners like BIO.
While there have been trying times, important progress and innovation in the field has been made. Preparedness is a moving target, but in public health and healthcare preparedness, we must keep pace with this target. We can stay closer to the target through public-private partnerships and the integration of private sector goodwill and resources into preparedness plans and initiatives. Healthcare Ready is one example of this, as is our signature resource, Rx Open. Rx Open is a one-of-kind map that displays open pharmacies in areas across the US impacted by a disaster, made possible by a collaboration between pharmacies, the National Council of Prescription Drug Programs, and Healthcare Ready.
Partnerships across the public and private sectors were life-saving during the last hurricane season. We were proud to help forge and participate in several of these, such as collaborating with ride-sharing apps to provide rides for patients at no cost and amplifying awareness of expanded prescription assistance programs. We were eager and grateful to amplify others partnerships, such as expanded telemedicine offers and millions of dollars’ worth of donations and in-kind support. Partnerships like these help enable us to act as an “invisible hand” to minimize gaps in response and recovery operations and avoid potential disruptions in care of those affected.
We are proud and grateful to count BIO as one of our longest-standing partners and supporters. Through their support and that of other private sector partners, Healthcare Ready has been able to act on our mission of building and enhancing resiliency before, during, and after disasters by creating partnerships with government, nonprofit, and medical supply chains. During blue skies and during emergencies, our partners play a critical role in ensuring we can continue to meet the needs of those impacted, even long after the storm hits.
We rely on relationships to be able to coordinate effectively during events. Between disasters, we spend our time improving based on lessons learned, and establishing new partnerships. All of this work is sustained by continued contributions from donors, partners, and members. This support is critical to ensure that our operations are in place and strong before the next disaster. There are many ways to partner with us: learn more about becoming a member, sign up for our notifications and situation reports during events, or contact us at ContactUs@HealthcareReady.org. If we can be helpful during an event, email us at alerts@HealthcareReady.org or call 866-247-2694.
 Progress Coordinating Government and Private Sector Efforts Varies by Sectors’ Characteristics, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-39
Dr. Nicolette A. Louissaint is the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready. Prior to this position, Nicolette served as the organization’s Director of Programming. Before joining Healthcare Ready Nicolette served as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. During the height of the Ebola Epidemic of 2014, Nicolette served as the Senior Advisor to the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola.