Special thanks to all those who contributed to the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) Puerto Rico donation drive, which benefited neonatal and pediatric intensive care units and others on the hurricane-ravaged island.
In the days before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands, the Society launched its emergency response protocol, which included sending a personal note from SCCM President Ruth Kleinpell, RN-CS, PhD, FAAN, FCCM. That e-mail included a message of solidarity with our critical care colleagues in the affected areas, a link to various complimentary disaster response resources, and a reminder to reach out to SCCM should any additional help be needed.
That e-mail reached Marilia Díaz, MSN, RN, an ICU nurse at Hospital Auxilio Mutuo in San Juan and president of the Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Medicina Critica, Intensiva y Coronaria. She remembered meeting Dr. Kleinpell during a critical care conference in Puerto Rico. The two nurses had shared a bonding moment discussing the rise of nurse leaders within their professional organizations.
“When I received her e-mail, I reached out to my colleagues in the public hospitals because I knew they were in need of the most help,” said Ms. Díaz. “When I spoke with them, they already had a list of things that they needed. I reached out to Dr. Kleinpell and the SCCM Staff, and that’s when it all started.”
Díaz noted that the hospitals in Puerto Rico were preparing as best they could for Hurricane Maria by boarding up windows in the ICUs, gathering generators, and stockpiling supplies. But many hospitals were already taking in patients from neighboring islands hit by Hurricane Irma just a few days before. The hospitals were in need of nonmedical supplies that were already running low with the influx of patients to the island.
Upon receiving the request from Ms. Díaz, Society staff brainstormed several options on how to help. They quickly decided to open a donation list via a special account set up on Amazon.com. Staff added the supplies requested, such as diapers in various sizes, baby soap, diaper rash creams, bottles, baby clothes, and baby food and formula.
“The baby formula was especially important,” Díaz recalled. “Breast-feeding takes time, and not everyone can breast-feed. It is hard when you are a new mother and spending time in lines for food and water and gas for your car. Formula is lifesaving here.”
SCCM sent a mass e-mail to members in the critical care community within the United States and Canada. The directions were simple: access the Amazon list, select the Hurricane Maria shipping option, and check out. Donations would be shipped to SCCM headquarters, where staff would coordinate bulk shipments to a storage facility in Florida, which would expedite shipment to Puerto Rico.
“We didn’t really know what to expect. I thought at most we would get enough donations to fill up a few pallets and feel good that we did our part,” said David Martin, CAE, chief executive officer and executive vicepresident of SCCM.
Within only a few minutes of sending the donation appeal, it was clear that there was an outpouring of support among the critical care community. A Facebook post on the effort also eventually garnered more than 280 shares, reaching an audience of more than 36,200 users.
The response to help the youngest and most vulnerable patients affected by Hurricane Maria and to provide relief to the healthcare professionals in Puerto Rico was in full swing
“Amazon allowed us to create a list of up to 30 items, and we could request up to 30 pieces of each of those items. Our original list met its goals within just a few minutes of sending the e-mail,” said Mr. Martin. “Staff jumped on updating the list with new items and found people were donating items just as fast as we could add them. We went home that night with two staff in charge of providing updates to the list throughout the night as requests were fulfilled.”
As the generosity of the critical care community became clear, staff worked nights and weekends to accommodate the bulk shipments now arriving at SCCM headquarters. Completely full UPS trucks started pulling in with boxes of donations—sometimes dropping off a thousand boxes at a time. Materials were packed high in the SCCM storage area and hallways, and a temporary storage pod was rented to prepare for shipments that would be arriving over the next few days.
Many staff and their families volunteered their time to help unpack individual donations, repack similar items together into larger boxes, ensure that all boxes were properly labeled, and build pallets ready for eventual distribution in Puerto Rico.
With pallets piled high with diapers of all sizes, sanitizer, baby clothes, bottles, blankets, mosquito nets, and additional shipments on the way, the Society searched for shipping options beyond UPS.
SCCM’s Congress exhibit hall logistics company, GES, generously and quickly tracked down two semi-trailer trucks, donating the trucks and shipping costs as part of the relief effort.
“GES is honored to support the efforts of SCCM and its members by providing trucks to transport needed supplies for pediatric ICUs in Puerto Rico,” said GES Sr. National Sales Manager, Phil Wargowsky.
When the thousands of unpacked Amazon boxes were repacked and all the pallets were loaded, SCCM’s impromptu Puerto Rico donation drive achieved tremendous success thanks to the overwhelming response of the critical care community. The Amazon donation list closed Monday, October 9. The Society shipped nearly 40 pallets of critically needed supplies to support our colleagues in Puerto Rico as they work to save our smallest and most vulnerable patients.
“These supplies are such a huge help. I just really want to thank SCCM for setting up the account and all the individuals who donated. I can assure you that every piece is going to help a child in need,” said Díaz.
“The Society’s mission is to improve care and, while this stretched outside of what SCCM traditionally does to achieve that goal, it certainly fits within our mission and shows the membership’s commitment to caring for the critically ill and injured in every way possible,” said Martin.
“I heard from many members who said that this particular way of giving and seeing the huge outpouring of support made them proud to be a member of SCCM. As the SCCM president, I have to say I felt exactly the same way,” said Dr. Kleinpell. “I just want to conclude by thanking all those who took the time to send even the smallest of items. Collectively, those small donations made a huge difference in the lives of so many.”