Disaster Medical Relief— Haiti Earthquake January 12, 2010


Disaster Relief Organization

Hernando Garzon, MD

Fall 2010 - Volume 14 Number 3

Our collective organizational response and my personal experience in Haiti were different from any prior disaster response in which I have been involved.

I have had the fortune to be involved with Kaiser Permanente (KP) volunteers and disaster relief efforts during large-scale disasters since we sent the first teams to Southeast Asia after the 2004 tsunami.  In addition to the more than 40 people we sent in relief efforts to Sri Lanka and Indonesia for the tsunami, multiple KP physicians volunteers traveled to Kashmir after the earthquake in Pakistan in late 2005 to work as part of Relief International’s program. KP physicians collaborated with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide medical care in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Another KP physician and I volunteered with Doctors Without Borders after postelection violence broke out in early 2008.

In the years since we first sent volunteer disaster medical relief workers to provide aid after the tsunami, many changes have occurred within KP’s Global Health and volunteer programs that have resulted in better support for this distinctly important and rewarding work. Under the sponsorship of The Permanente Medical Group leadership, we have:

  • Created a framework to support physician volunteerism by coordinating the efforts of the Assistant Physician-in-Chief of Health Promotion, Community Benefit, Public Affairs and dedicated physicians at each facility via the KPCares program.
  • Developed relationships with multiple medical relief organizations including Doctors Without Borders, Relief International, International Medical Corps, Medshare, and others.
  • Created a KP National Volunteerism Web site (www.KPCares.org) for all employees of the Northern California, Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Regions.  This enables all KP staff to both post and search volunteer opportunities. In addition, it allows staff to register in a comprehensive disaster response database that was used, with the invaluable support of Program Office’s Community Benefit, to identify skilled clinicians immediately after the Haitian earthquake. This database continues to serve as a resource should a disaster occur in our own local communities.
  • Developed and delivered several Continuing Medical Education courses on the topics of disaster medical relief and humanitarian medical work in austere environments.

In total, these efforts created a KP response to the Haiti earthquake unlike any response we have mounted in the past. A small number of KP staff traveled to Haiti with organizations they had identified on their own immediately following the earthquake, or reconnected with relief organizations with which they had worked in the past. The greatest impact however, was via KP’s contribution as the main contributor of medical personnel and logistical support to Relief International’s disaster response (see www.RI.org). We used the KPCares.org Web site to gather information on interested volunteers, and in the first month alone sent over 30 physicians and nurses to Haiti with Relief International.

In the first few weeks we staffed a team of emergency physicians, nurses, and medics who largely delivered trauma care. Our subsequent waves of volunteers ran the spectrum of Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, Internal Medicine, and Mental Health. They represented the Regions of Northern California, Southern California, and the Mid-Atlantic. All donated at least two weeks of their time with the support of their departments and colleagues. We are now also involved with the Relief International long-term capacity building project in Haiti, and contribute about two medical volunteers at a time for their efforts to run five community clinics, staffed primarily by Haitian medical personnel. Our volunteers provide teaching and educational support for the Haitian national staff.

On a personal level, as intense and chaotic as the first few weeks of the relief effort were, I was deeply inspired by the successful development of our new capability to respond. KP  now has the ability to mobilize our volunteers and their expertise to assist in future humanitarian disasters. I could not be more proud to work for an organization that supports volunteer and community service efforts in such a comprehensive and systematic way. There is no greater reward than to be of service in a time of need in a way that honors the principles of our professional commitment to medicine.



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