In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request to provide medical support to residents of Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Northwell Health today deployed 27 employees to assist in the medical mission.
The Northwell contingent leaving this afternoon from JFK International Airport is part of a team of 78 New York hospital volunteers heading to the hurricane-raved island. In addition to supplying a team of nurses, physicians, medics, EMTs and other clinicians and administrators to help out with the medical mission, Northwell is donating $750,000 toward the effort, and shipping 60,000 pounds of supplies and personal hygiene products that were donated by the health system’s employees.
The donated supplies – everything from cases of water to baby formula, diapers, batteries, toothpaste and cleaning supplies – will be transported on a container ship to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and distributed by MedShare, a humanitarian organization that Northwell Health has worked with in response to numerous natural disasters over the years. The health system had previously donated about 800 boxes of clinical supplies such as surgical masks and catheters as well as pharmaceutical drugs to local hospitals through MedShare’s disaster relief program.
Speaking to volunteers on Wednesday who gathered at the health system’s corporate headquarters in New Hyde Park for a briefing on the mission, Northwell Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Solazzo said, “This mission is important to us as Northwell. It goes to the core of what we believe in. We are proud and honored to provide this help.”
Team leader Randy Howard spoke about the potential difficulties of a mission of this nature, explaining that the volunteers will likely be asked to provide medical support at a federal medical station in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, located on the island’s northern coast. Such facilities, located throughout Puerto Rico, are designed to care for up to 250 patients at a time.
“We will be asked to deal with everything from scrapes and bruises to the most acute care that is called for,” said Howard, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army before retiring from the military. “While we don’t know exactly where we will be stationed, we will be prepared.”
Mary Mahoney, senior director of emergency management at Northwell Health, discussed existing living conditions and what volunteers will face during the mission.
“Aside from the obvious medical difficulties the island’s inhabitants are living with on a daily basis, we are also aware of the potential outbreak of infectious diseases there,” said Ms. Mahoney. “It won’t be easy, but we are well equipped and most concerned about the safety of our team. We’ve planned very long and very hard for this, knowing that we might be living in a hospital, a shelter or outside. Our team is honored to provide medical care that will help get the people of Puerto Rico back on their feet.”
As part of the medical mission initiated by Gov. Cuomo and coordinated by the Greater New York Hospital Association and the state Department of Health, the Northwell volunteers will be joined by colleagues at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York- Presbyterian, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in Manhattan, and Albany Medical Center.
“Our employees’ response to this call for help was extraordinary,” said Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health. “Just like they do every day in responding to the needs of their patients, our employees demonstrated incredible caring and commitment to helping the people of Puerto Rico recover from one of the worst natural disasters in its history.”