When natural disasters strike, quickly getting the right aid to people is difficult at best. Doing so amid the worst pandemic in a century increases that challenge dramatically.

For thousands of Americans displaced this year by hurricanes, floods and wildfires — plus those trying to avoid COVID-19 — getting their drugs and medical supplies has been critical.

Healthcare Ready, a tiny disaster preparedness and response group, serves as a crucial hub for coordinating donations and shipments of medicines, protective gear and other supplies to those in need.

The Associated Press recently talked with its executive director, Nicolette Louissaint.

Q: What led to your group’s formation in 2005?

A: After Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of frustration. Pharmaceutical companies knew they could do more to help but didn’t know how to get their medicines into shelters, because they didn’t have relationships with law enforcement, public health agencies or the Red Cross. They decided, let’s do this as a coalition.

Q: How do you prepare for disasters?

A: We make sure we’re refreshing our contacts every year, touching every state’s emergency management and health organizations. We work with national groups with a local presence in many communities, like churches and the NAACP. We do preparedness projects to identify populations that would have the greatest medical needs after a disaster.


Q: How has your work evolved since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit in 2017?

A: The landscape has only gotten more and more difficult. It’s the intensity of the events and the frequency. Being poised to jump in and provide support for multiple intensive events is the hardest challenge, and that’s what COVID has been testing for us.

Q: During the pandemic, medicines largely remained available. What’s been your focus?

A: We continue to work closely with the manufacturers and distributors of personal protective equipment, to have a single clearinghouse for our emergency management agency partners. We worked with the National Governors Association to vet and create a list of credible suppliers of those products. We worked with Project Hope and the Business Roundtable to identify products needed and then distribute their donations to community groups, nursing homes and clinics.

We do a lot of info sharing. We set up our “RX Open” map so people could see where pharmacies were open before leaving home amid stay-at-home orders.

Q: Are you helping with the wildfires?

A: We’re working with pharma and the Red Cross, making sure everyone isn’t sending the same thing. We’re working with pharmacies to be sure they have the medicines they need. We have some partners prepared to provide donations for individuals who’ve lost their homes.

Q: How is Healthcare Ready funded?

A: We receive contributions from the associations for drug manufacturers, distributors, chain pharmacies and other companies, plus other grants and donations.