Dr. Douglas Mehaffie knows what it feels like when a hurricane forces you to become a refugee in your own country. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he and his wife and kids found themselves temporarily living out of their SUV after the levies broke and their New Orleans home was flooded.
Mehaffie’s urgent care practice, Westbank Urgent Care Center in the New Orleans area, had been open less than a year before Katrina hit. Unlike Mehaffie’s home, his center didn’t flood, but a third of the center’s roof came off, which let in a lot of rain. The center was on paper charts at the time, and the x-ray film of those days was susceptible to mold. It was a challenging time for Westbank Urgent Care.
So when the first hurricane tore through the southern part of the country this year, Mehaffie and his staff knew they had to do something help.
“We were just looking for somebody or some way to give,” said Mehaffie. “I think we’ve all been affected down here so much that we all felt it was our turn to do something.”
But hurricanes don’t care about good intentions. Trucks full of supplies couldn’t get through the interstate to Houston because there was so much water. So the Westbank staff joined forces with Cajun Airlift, a volunteer group of pilots based in Baton Rouge, to get supplies to Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. They rounded up excess medical supplies, including drug samples, from their own centers and got other urgent care centers to donate their excess medical supplies, and Cajun Airlift flew it all out to hurricane-affected areas. They also collected non-medical supplies, such as baby food, diapers, canned goods and cleaning supplies.
“We thought, ‘Can we make urgent cares within these storm shelters?’” said Mehaffie. “People can be treated at the shelter instead of clogging the ER.”
“I remember you can only grab two pairs of shorts, but you thought you’ll be back in two days. If you really get hit directly, you would be surprised. It’s not just you; it’s your mom, your dad, your sister, your neighbors. Everyone is impacted. Even if you can lift yourself, you can’t lift the community up…” Mehaffie said of his experience in Hurricane Katrina. “We’re still looking to do more [for this year’s hurricane victims] because it’s not looking to go away. [The damage is] going to be there for Halloween. It’s going to be there for Christmas. Blue tarps on the roofs for months. A year…”
Wes Shepherd has never experienced a hurricane before, but his staff’s servant mentality meant there was no question Fast Pace Urgent Care Clinic would help those affected by the recent string of hurricanes.
“Somebody says, ‘I’m gonna go down to the local Piggly Wiggly and pick up 100 cans of food.’ ‘Well, I’m gonna go to the Dollar Store and pick up four or five cases or water.’ ‘Well, I’m gonna…’ It just kinda expands from there,” said Shepherd, vice president of IT at Fast Pace. “It wasn’t one of those things where we had to kind of get together. It was more around how do we kind of move this forward and make this an effort to allow people’s natural giving nature to come forward.”
Based in Tennessee, Fast Pace opened up its 45,000 square foot, undeveloped office building dubbed “Big Blue” to people displaced by the hurricanes so they could have access to a warm place to sleep, bathrooms and showers. They also collected donations at all 55 Fast Pace facilities and promoted those collections by changing all of their digital signage, sending out mass mailers and posting on their Facebook pages. In total, Fast Pace collected 20,000 pounds of food for people affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Shepherd hopes anybody else would do the same to help others in the need. “We don’t let the barriers of the business get in the way of helping each other because, when that starts to happen, you really need to take a look at what your business stands for. Because at the end of the day, we’re all here. Be it Tennessean, Illinoisans, or Floridians, we’re all occupying the same round ball, and your business, it’s always gotta be helping people grow because, otherwise, it’s where are you really going?”