Answering the Call When Tragedy Strikes

In Puerto Rico—more than one month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island—many communities still lack the water, electricity, pharmaceuticals, communications, transportation, and other resources needed to sustain life and care for patients. At Hospital Español Auxilio Mutuo in San Juan, our cardiac perfusion team works under these challenging conditions to provide medical care, which has included a successful aortic dissection repair performed with the patient under deep hypothermic circulatory arrest while the hospital was on generator power.

Dr. Orlando Lopez de Victoria, center, examines images of a patient’s repaired aorta at Hospital Español Auxilio Mutuo in San Juan, PR.

Just days before assisting in that surgery, Clinical Manager/Perfusionist Ribana Blanco spent 12 hours huddled in her bathroom with her two dogs, braced against the storm. After the winds and rain subsided, she managed to travel to Ponce on the south side of the island to rescue her parents. “Everything was so devastated that I could not even recognize the streets and places,” Ribana said. “We began to help each other with food, water, and gas stoves, and we learned how important it is to share and to support each other as a community.”

As a resident of Puerto Rico, Ribana is still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Maria on a personal level while also continuing to provide patients with vital healthcare services in the wake of the storm. Sadly, her story is not unlike those out of Texas and Florida where Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused historic flooding, forced hospital evacuations, and stretched medical resources beyond capacity.

In Northern California, wildfires have also impacted both the personal and professional lives of medical and emergency teams. As one of our customers in the area said, “The community as a whole is suffering… the next few months and probably years will be rebuilding and regrouping.” SpecialtyCare Director of Operations/Senior Neurophysiologist David Citarrella, a Marin County resident, added, “Many of the support staff, nurses, and physicians are now homeless. The scale of this tragedy is still coming into view.”

A tragedy of a different sort tested the healthcare professionals, first responders, and people of Las Vegas when a gunman fired into the crowd at an outdoor concert. According to Chief Perfusionist Ryan Wall-O’Mara, “Our anesthesia technicians and perfusion teams were integral to the response at multiple facilities that night and into the following days, providing perfusion, anesthesia support, autotransfusion, point-of-care lab testing, and general support.” SpecialtyCare’s schedulers, managers, and others behind the scenes also responded rapidly, ensuring effective communication, coordination, and coverage for emergency surgeries. As Scheduling Supervisor Justin McQueen noted, “We were able to quickly establish and maintain a solid line of communication between the hospitals and our teams and also between clinical leadership and team personnel. The clinicians were informed, organized, and prepared to face the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. [Our people] exemplified every value this company stands for and I couldn’t be more proud.”

The pain and devastation brought on by each of these recent events is undeniable, but so too is the remarkable strength and selflessness demonstrated by the people of these communities. We are tremendously grateful for our clinicians across the country, and all medical professionals, who effectively mobilize resources, maintain professionalism, and care for patients under the most extreme conditions. They are members of the cities and towns that they serve—it’s where they live their lives and raise their families. Like their neighbors, they personally experience the life-altering effects of disaster and tragedy. And yet, they continue to answer the call for help, putting the needs of others above their own.

In SpecialtyCare’s New Hire Orientation sessions, CEO Sam Weinstein emphasizes that we define ourselves as people by how we behave in the face of adversity. His words have never been more timely. This year has tested us. It has tested the character and adaptability of everyone affected—the victims, their loved ones, healthcare providers, first responders, military personnel, and volunteers of all kinds. The residual effects of recent events will continue to test us in the weeks and months and years ahead. But we have shown that the most horrific situations bring out the best in us. We have shown what we can accomplish when we stand together. It’s comforting to know that members of the medical profession and others from all walks of life will keep answering the call, not only during the worst of times, but every day, because that’s what community is all about.