Providing Relief to Patients in the Aftermath of a Disaster

PQMD Member Bristol-Myers Squibb Responds to Puerto Rico

On the morning of September 20, 2017, a new chapter of history opened in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria began her barrage against the island, altering the lives of more than 3 million people, including 1,100 Bristol-Myers Squibb employees.

After raging for more than 12 hours, the Category 4 storm finally moved on but not before causing unprecedented and widespread damage – and one of the largest humanitarian crises ever seen in the Caribbean. Homes were battered, some beyond repair. Entire communities were stranded for weeks, and many people were tracking time by the number of days they had gone without electricity or running water.

When the storm began, operations at our commercial sites in Guaynabo, our pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Humacao and its biologics plant in Manati were halted – but not for long as both sites play a key role in supplying life-saving medications for patients around the world.

Not long after Maria barreled across the island, employees like Jose Ponce DeLeon Gonzalez, a senior packaging technologist at Manati, began making their way to work.

Jose walked 10 miles across roads littered with sand, downed trees and power lines to ensure the plant was operational. “If the equipment doesn’t operate, then the medicines cannot be produced,” Jose says.

Jose and other employees are the embodiment of commitment to our mission. “For us, it was extremely important to get operations back to normal because the difference between treatment and disruption of treatment could be life or death,” says Alejandro Drevon, general manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

We worked quickly following the storm to ensure all of our employees were safe and accounted for. As soon as airports reopened, the company began flying in relief supplies – portable generators, water, canned food and ice – that were distributed daily at the two manufacturing sites as well as the commercial offices.

When the first batch of cancer medicine for patients rolled off the line at Manati within days of the plant resuming operations, employees felt they had turned a page in the chapter of history that began when the storm hit.

“When we were able to package the first product, that wasn’t just a major milestone from an engineering or discovery perspective but from an emotional perspective,” said Anibal Carlo, Vice President & General Manager of the Manati site. “It’s a sign that if we as a company can do this, then we can do it for all of Puerto Rico.”

“Our employees consider the company mission part of their larger role in society. To them, it was clear – if these medicines don’t make it to patients, people will suffer and the impact of Hurricane Maria will have reached much farther than just Puerto Rico.”

The dedication and commitment of our employees in Puerto Rico helped ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines to patients and restarted site operations faster than anyone could have expected.

“The hurricane put living the company mission in a different perspective,” says Beatriz Sanabria, Human Resources Director in Puerto Rico. “We know we work for patients and that we are conducting manufacturing campaigns because there’s a patient waiting for product out there. But doing it in the midst of an emergency like this took it to another level.”



One Year later….

Hurricane Maria strained the Puerto Rican healthcare system in ways that were unforeseen prior to the disaster, compounding and amplifying deep-seated problems.  The federally-funded Community Health Centers (CHCs) include clinics and hospitals, delivering essential emergency, primary and secondary care to the island’s poorest, most vulnerable, and hardest to reach residents, and serve as a lifeline to these communities.  In order to help the CHC improve their disaster plans and prepare for the next potential natural disaster, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation has committed $500,000 to the Migrant Clinicians Network for a two-year capacity building project to enhance CHC recovery activities and emergency preparedness planning and their capacity to execute the effectively.

This project will be implemented in partnership with the Puerto Rican Primary Care Association, Medical Directors Association of Puerto Rico, University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health, Puerto Rico Department of Health, the US CDC and the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).