Standing with medical providers of Turkish and Syrian descent, Michael J. Dowling, Northwell Health’s president and CEO, announced on March 3 that the health system is sending 22 pallets of needed medical and disaster relief supplies to the devastated regions after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6 that claimed more than 48,000 lives and left millions displaced.
With Reyhan Ozgur, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey, on hand at Northwell’s Integrated Distribution Center in Bethpage, this announcement comes a day shy of the one-year anniversary of Northwell sending humanitarian relief supplies in support of health providers in Ukraine at the start of a war waged by Russian forces.
“We’re all part of one global family,” said Dowling. “And when there’s one part of the family in severe distress, we as a health care organization have to be concerned about people in other parts of the world.”
As with Ukraine relief, Northwell is working with longstanding partner Medshare to transport supplies from New York into the affected regions. In addition, Northwell’s Center for Global Health (CGH) is networking with local leaders on the ground to fund relief efforts where they’ll make the greatest impact.
“We are gathering specialized supplies that are difficult to procure locally, things like dialysis kits, trauma supplies that are now already strained in Europe because of the war in Ukraine,” said Eric Cioe Peña, MD, director of the CGH, who’s helping spearhead these efforts.
After the shock
Disaster relief efforts in Turkey and Syria have been continually plagued by high-magnitude aftershocks in already devastated areas, with the most recent 5.6 magnitude on Feb. 27, compounding the crisis.
Northwell has once again aligned with international relief partners, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — more commonly known in the U.S. as Doctors Without Borders — to provide direct medical care to survivors and people in need of basic care. The Northwell Health Turkey-Syria relief fund was also created to bring direct equitable financial support to the disaster areas.
This was welcomed news to Abit Soylu, a paramedic with Northwell’s Center for Emergency Medical Services, whose family lives in Turkey. Soylu lost his cousin and her son when their home collapsed in the initial quake.
“It’s hard for me because I’m not there and I’m heartbroken here not being able to help them,” he said. “It took five days for them to find them in the rubble.”
Mr. Soylu was joined by Amen Alhadi, a flight paramedic with Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) who has family in Syria and Anas Sawas, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, who spoke about the limited humanitarian access into Syria from the civil war, now strained by the earthquake.
Also at the event were Onat Akin, MD, a Northwell pathologist with family in Turkey, and Banu Aygun MD, a pediatric oncologist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. The two discussed the medical risks children face in that region due to the lack of access to care and clean water. Scabies and cholera can spread quickly and other illness from lack of vaccinations.
“Aside from losing their homes, their schools, their friends, some of them are unfortunately orphans,” Dr. Aygun said. “The physical scars are very big, but the psychological scars are much deeper.”
“We’re a culturally dynamic health system,” Dr. Cioe Peña said. “Like in Ukraine, working with MSF and our teammates that hail from these regions will help us build sustainable relationships to get materials and funds to the right place and care for more people.”
Disaster 24/7 on-call:
In the weeks that followed the invasion of Ukraine, Northwell Health deployed its integrated telehealth service to provide 24/7 assistance to health care providers to consult and offer guidance on civilian and military patient care. The program has provided more than 350 consults to clinicians caring for patients of blast injury and gunfire, to women with perinatal care needs and patients awaiting organ transplant.
Northwell looks to deploy this same strategy in Turkey and Syria and offer 24/7 access to complement medical care there. “When we launched this program, we quickly realized that using this as a peer-to-peer platform offered the most benefit and impact to the medical community in Ukraine,” said Dr. Cioe Peña.
“We have an obligation and responsibility. It’s part of the culture of Northwell: Any time anyone is in trouble — whether it’s domestic or overseas — we do our best to help,” added Dowling. “If we have the ability and the resources to help — and we obviously have the will — then we should help. That’s why we’re in the health care business. … It’s something we’ve always done, it’s something we always do.”
To donate and support the Northwell Health CGH Turkey/Relief fund visit: https://support.northwell.edu/center-for-global-health