In the Midst of Devastation, Baystate Health Brings Hope

Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017, leaving widespread devastation and taking thousands of lives. The storm cut off power and other means of communication and left people anxiously awaiting news from family and friends. Even as the hurricane struck, Baystate Health was working to support those impacted.

Hundreds of people who had been displaced came to the area to stay with loved ones. Employees saw needs and met them, donating (along with Baystate Health Foundation) warm clothing, a wheelchair, and thousands of dollars for other unanticipated expenses.

Baystate Health Centers Respond Quickly

"In my role at the city's homeless health center under the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services, I saw this urgent problem on the horizon," says Andrew Balder, MD, medical director, Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center. "My colleagues in the Baystate Health Centers created a rapid and valuable response to the health and health care needs of our fellow citizens displaced by a natural disaster."

"It became clear that this humanitarian disaster would have a major impact on the health care of those displaced and we needed to create access to care for these individuals until they could return home," says Abraham Thomas, MD, MPH, chair, Medicine, Baystate Health. Some evacuees arrived with medical needs and found support at Baystate Health’s three community health centers in Springfield – Baystate High Street Health Center, Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center, and Baystate Brightwood Health Center – Centro de Salud.

Baystate Brightwood Health Center built on its already close relationship with New North Citizen's Council, which had been designated a welcome center for evacuees, to learn about needs and devise plans to best meet them. Initially the health centers extended their hours to treat the influx of patients. High Street Health Center launched a special clinic for evacuees every Wednesday evening for six months. Spanish-speaking providers as well as two interpreters supported care delivered.

Basic Health Care Needs and Disaster Related Injuries

"People were treated for a variety of illnesses ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to anxiety disorders to heart and other serious diseases," says Orlando Torres, MD, medical director, Baystate High Street Health Center. “Even filling a prescription had become impossible after the hurricane struck." Some people exhibited signs of depression. Others had back pain and other injuries from cleaning up debris. Most had no medical records with them. One woman came with her children and a small bag of clothing. Baystate High Street Health Center later hired her as an interpreter and she serves on the team today.

Baystate Health established a relationship with two welcome centers set-up to assist Puerto Rican families and set-up a dedicated telephone line. Since October 2017, Baystate Health has cared for more than 450 evacuees, including providing wellness exams and immunizations necessary for children to attend local schools.

As Baystate Health team members worked to meet the medical needs of a displaced population, Government & Community Relations, including Michael Knapik, vice president, worked with state legislators to ensure support. In August, Senator James Welch (D-West Springfield) announced that $500,000 from the state budget would go to the health system to defray some unanticipated costs.

"A sense of extraordinary empathy and need for action overwhelmed Baystate Health team members and community liaisons in the aftermath of the hurricane," says Torres. "We came together to utilize each individual talent, and led an effort with a sense of common purpose."

Baystate Health Recognized for Hurricane Maria Relief Response
PR Daily awarded Baystate Health its 2018 Corporate Social Responsibility Award, Honorable Mention for supporting the urgent care needs of displaced families from Puerto Rico. And the Puerto Rico Evacuee and Triage Clinic team received internal recognition, winning the top Baystate Health President’s Excellence Award.