The Scripps Medical Response Team is ready to send personnel to the Philippines to deal with the aftermath of deadly Typhoon Haiyan. But they won't deploy them until they have a defined mission and a solid on-site partner.
Hundreds of Scripps Health employees—physicians, nurses, administrators and other personnel—have offered their time and expertise to provide medical, administrative, logistical and security assistance to the people of the islands devastated by the winds, rain and storm surge of Haiyan slightly more than a week ago. More than 13 million people have been affected, nearly 2 million displaced, and 3,600 reported dead, according to the United Nations.
The lack of food, clean water, shelter and healthcare is dire, and the ability to get aid to those in need is proving to be a tough challenge. Though his team is ready, Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health president and CEO, said they're holding off on going. “Sometimes, well-meaning teams can hinder relief efforts if not organized properly as part of a larger invitation for support,” he said. “A lot of what determines success or failure of a disaster mission is logistics. And we need to make sure it is reasonably safe for our employees and doctors to go over.”
Experts say it's best to make solid connections on the ground before deploying aid workers.
The Registered Nurse Response Network, a project of National Nurses United, sent its advance team of five to the Philippines last week to work with local organizations and healthcare professionals to provide medical support. But they are mostly arranging logistics for future volunteers. The network has been coordinating with the Philippines Alliance of Health Workers—a member of National Nurses United's international affiliate, Global Nurses United—to assess personnel, supply and monetary needs.
“We primarily go in and make connections with the organizations on the ground to identify the places that we could deploy that would have the most impact,” said Jan Rodolfo, the Midwest director of National Nurses United and a member of its advance team.
So far, more than 2,200 registered nurses from 12 countries and all 50 states have signed up to help with the relief efforts. Thirty-six nurses currently living in the Philippines also have volunteered their services through the Registered Nurse Response Network.
About 10 volunteers from the International Medical Corps, a first-responder to global disasters, have been dispatched to the area. The current team includes members focusing on logistics, finance, communications, security and medical needs, with the plan to bring in more doctors and nurses in waves. Most volunteers will stay for two to three weeks as new ones rotate in.
The initial team arrived in Cebu City, which Margaret Aguirre, director of global communications for International Medical Corps, called “relatively functional” and not as hard hit as some of the other areas. Because of that, Cebu City will serve as the hub and command center for International Medical Corps' operations as they travel to more remote areas to provide care.
“We go to the tougher areas where no one is going and no one is receiving access to care, where the needs are greatest and the populations most vulnerable,” she said.
But getting to those people in need is still a questionable matter. According to Aguirre, there are coastal areas that haven't been reached yet. Beyond helping them with immediate needs like food and clean water, Aguirre said IMC is concerned about providing care for physical and psychological trauma and Dengue fever, and for the 236,000 pregnant women in the region.
U.S. health officials are concerned about not putting additional strain on the resources that are already stretched thin. “Sending more people is only going to create a logjam of supplies and resources,” said Tim Serban, chief mission integration officer for Providence Health & Services' Oregon division and director of the American Red Cross' Disaster Spiritual Care Team. “The first thing is not to jump in and go when you're not sent.” Serban instead recommended donating money to the organizations already on the ground so they can purchase what they need.
Faith in Action Initiatives, a program run by Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, is collecting money from its employees for relief efforts. The organization is also accepting bags of toiletries, including tissues, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The program is working with the Salvation Army, which has 13 local offices in the Philippines, to coordinate the donations.
Meanwhile, some health systems are addressing the needs of their Filipino-American employees who have relatives in the typhoon-affected areas. Scripps has established a number of resource programs for its Filipino-American staff, including extended time off, financial support and counseling.
Aguirre said the relief effort surrounding the Haiyan disaster will continue for years. “This is a monumental effort,” she said. “After the Haiti earthquake, we were on the ground the day after. We're still in Haiti four years later.” Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden