The challenges and our response
As a global first responder with more than 35 years of experience delivering emergency relief in difficult environments, International Medical Corps is ready to respond immediately when disaster strikes. Now, with a healthcare system facing significant challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and domestic resources stretched as hurricane seasons have intensified in recent years, International Medical Corps is working more closely than ever before with healthcare systems and state agencies throughout the United States to help them respond to disease, disaster and their aftermath.
As part of our global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are deploying emergency medical field units, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, and volunteer clinicians to overburdened hospitals throughout the United States. We’re also providing training, both in person and through our online COVID-19 Learning Series.
International Medical Corps also has worked with Florida’s Department of Health and the Florida Association of Community Health Centers to develop additional preparedness programming for hurricane seasons, including the following:
- We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Florida Department of Health saying that, in an emergency, we would support the medical needs of shelter residents and extend medical care into the hardest-hit areas, leveraging such assets as our mobile field hospital.
- We agreed to provide training to community health centres across the state on emerging infectious diseases and infection-control prevention measures, to help local communities better manage the public health emergencies and diseases that frequently occur following a natural disaster. We are providing similar training in North Carolina.
In 2018, we responded in North Carolina and Florida to help communities affected by Hurricane Florence in September and Hurricane Michael in October. After the storm, we continued to help residents in the Florida Panhandle by setting up and outfitting temporary clinics for PanCare Health in Marianna and Panama City. And we supported thousands in Florida who were affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, which cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean in September 2017.
For example, in and around Fort Myers on the Gulf coast, we worked with a local network of 30 clinics that reach 80,000 underserved men, women and children. In the Miami/Dade County areas on the Atlantic coast, we provided no-cost medicines to a network of clinics that serve vulnerable families, ensuring that they continue to receive care for chronic diseases like diabetes, and easing their financial burden as they recover and rebuild in the wake of the storms. In the immediate aftermath of the 2017 storms, with many clinic staff members displaced from their homes, International Medical Corps provided sanitation facilities enabling them to return to work. We also helped restore power to a clinic in Bonita Springs that serves some 30,000 people.
Hurricane Michael: Florida
In 2018, at the request of the Florida Department of Health, International Medical Corps sent multiple teams of doctors and nurses to the state to respond to Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida Panhandle as a powerful Category 4 storm on October 10 with winds as high as 155 mph. International Medical Corps volunteer doctors and nurses worked at medical facilities and special-needs shelters providing primary healthcare to people affected by the storm, giving local first responders the opportunity to rest and attend to their own losses in the wake of the devastating hurricane. Later, we collaborated with FedEx and AbbVie to deliver, set up and outfit two temporary health centres for PanCare Health. The facilities and equipment will enable the healthcare-centre operator to continue offering medical and dental services to at-risk populations in Marianna and Panama City who were affected by the storm.
Wind, flooding and power outages from hurricanes create a range of emergency medical needs, including lack of medications for chronic conditions, infection of open wounds, lack of access to clean water and the potential for transmission of waterborne diseases. We leveraged our decades of experience delivering emergency relief in difficult environments, and experience with getting people and supplies to places that are hard-hit, often where communications are down, to help hard-hit communities on the Panhandle.
Hurricane Florence: The Carolinas
International Medical Corps mobilised resources and deployed emergency response teams to the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14, 2018, causing catastrophic flooding. Our assistance focused especially on rural and harder-to-reach locations—where providing emergency care can be difficult.
We worked closely with state authorities to reach the cut-off communities to provide urgently needed support, deploying a number of response teams, including a shelter medical team (made up of a lead, physician, and registered nurses) to provide health services. We also worked with partners on the ground to deploy mobile medical clinics, shelters and supplies, and continue to coordinate with the network of federally qualified clinics that serve low-income communities to determine how to best support them.
Hurricane Irma: Puerto Rico
Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean basin in early September 2017 as a Category 5 storm, maintaining maximum intensity for 37 hours and leaving 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power.
Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria followed. Both storms were catastrophic to the island, home to 3.4 million U.S. citizens— levelling homes, destroying health facilities and damaging critical infrastructure. It took nearly a year to restore electric power to all the homes and businesses, after the storms took out 80% of all power lines and flooded most of the island’s generators.
International Medical Corps arrived in Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria and today continues recovery work in collaboration with La Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico (ASPPR), a network of 76 health clinics focused on providing care to low-income families across the island. We are currently working on a long-term project to strengthen the island’s emergency response system, and are helping Puerto Ricans access healthcare through mobile medical units that are providing home visits for patients in hard-hit communities who are unable to travel to health facilities for treatment.
As immediate relief efforts have shifted to recovery, International Medical Corps continues to provide power, clean water, communications and cash grants to 26 health facilities and local clinics, which have reached more than 63,000 people.