Notes on Haiti - CEO Journal Part 6

Mission 2 Team at the San Diego airport.

Note: While serving a medical mission to Haiti, Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder is writing dispatches about medical aid in progress, conditions on the ground and what can be done to help earthquake victims. For other journal entries, see the Haiti news page.

Hello to everyone back home. My team left San Diego this morning (Friday, Feb. 29) in a bit of a whirlwind. We gathered supplies to take with us this time so we will be able to take better care of our patients and make them more comfortable: antibiotics, pain and anesthesia medications, along with some surgical supplies and surgical tools. Also needed in these circumstances, we took communication devices, personal items, food and water purification systems and personal medications prescribed for each member to protect against typhoid, hepatitis, gastrointestinal illnesses and malaria. We also brought gloves, masks and other gear.

We had at least four television stations covering our departure this morning from Campus Point, with several requests for live and taped interviews. It was interesting to watch the reaction of several of these hardened news reporters as I told them of our recent Haiti experience. The more stories I told, the longer the interviews. After each interview, the reporter and camera operator offered their sincere well wishes for a successful mission. All the stations remained until we pulled out of the parking lot in two large vehicles — each filled with medical personnel and supplies destined for Haiti.

So, imagine showing up at the airport ticket counter with several crates, boxes and bags to be shipped with us, along with all of our personal gear, and with medications and liquids not permitted through airport screening. Fortunately, we were supported by several members of the pharmacy, supply chain and SHAS teams, who helped us with the boxes and assisted with the medications.

Team 2 departing San Diego airport

When staff at the ticket counter heard about our mission, the Continental Airlines staff did what they could to help. They tried to help us upgrade some tickets (in return for a couple of muffins we had brought), and also helped with the large number of boxes. We had already prioritized our supplies and left much at home because of limited cargo space on the aircraft that will bring us into Haiti. But now we needed to break the boxes down again so no individual box or bag weighed more than 50 pounds. That work fell to Rob Sills, our logistics and communications team member. He broke everything up into 14 different bag or box groupings. Of course, these days, we have to pay for baggage, right? Well the answer was yes and no. The computer said we had to pay $1300 for the bags, and there was no way the ticket counter staff or supervisor could change that, but we were given military discounts and told that Continental would write off the cost for this mission, upon request. So, I have something to do when I get home.

Now for the medications — DEA to the rescue. Yes, the DEA. Earlier, our pharmacy team had made contact with the DEA, which had an agent meet us at the ticket counter. They supplied us with a letter authorizing us to transport the medications on an aircraft and out of the country. We had some challenges obtaining the letter, but everything worked out and TSA walked us through the screening process.

So we flew to Houston and then to Fort Lauderdale, arriving around 10 p.m. EST. We will be spending one night in a hotel and then off to the airport for our trip to Haiti.

Our first team, led by Dr. Brent Eastman, had some challenges, as well. Getting to the East Coast on Thursday was difficult due to weather, but they eventually made it and also made it to Haiti today. We are in regular contact and will meet up with them tomorrow — most likely taking our supplies and team directly to the hospital from the airport. There are people who need us and there is no time to delay.

You might also like to know that we are supported by a large and well-trained team at home. First of all, each of you (Scripps staff) who remain to carry on our core mission. But we also have a team of administrators, supply/logistics and communications experts who maintain a command post and process to make sure we are always safe and in contact with home. We have at least three satellite phones, and no team on the ground will ever be without communications capability. We also have people and systems set up to watch out for team member safety and security. That was part of the reason Dr. Eastman and I made the advance trip to Haiti last week.

Thanks also go to the many people who helped us leave on time today and yesterday, and with the right gear. Members of the Office of the President, pharmacy, supply chain, information services, project management office, disaster management and others. Thanks also to the family members of the deployed teams, for without their support, we would not have a team deployed.

And finally, thanks to all of you who have volunteered to serve or have written letters of support. I do share your letters with the team and I promise to respond to all of you — but probably not until I return home, as we will be pretty busy. I wish we could take every volunteer, but this is a mission that requires specific expertise — and it is a limited mission in terms of size — mostly because of air transportation into Haiti. But this could go on for a while and I suspect we will be needing many of you in the future.

So, next message: from Haiti.

Chris Van Gorder

See the Haiti news page for other journal entries.