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Oklahoma tornades: California-based nonprofit donates medical supplies

California-based nonprofit donates $100,000 and opens up entire inventory of medical supplies, valued at $30 million, to clinics in Oklahoma treating tornado victims
BY RACHAEL CERVENKA Published: June 3, 2013

When a California nonprofit CEO learned of the tornado devastation throughout Oklahoma he knew the impact would be enormous, therefore he made an enormous commitment to help.

As head of the only nonprofit organization licensed to distribute prescription medications in all 50 states, Thomas Tighe knew Direct Relief could be a major benefactor in tornado relief efforts.

On May 21, Direct Relief pledged an initial $100,000 in emergency cash grants and its entire $30 million stockpile of available medical inventories to assist with medical relief and recovery efforts in storm-affected communities.

As of Wednesday, the humanitarian assistance organization had delivered 19 medical supply orders, valued at roughly $450,000, to six of the nonprofit community health centers in the Oklahoma City-metro area that it serves, Tighe said. Due to an ongoing program with the centers, Direct Relief was able to respond rapidly to address the increasing medical needs following the deadly twister.

“Anything they see, they can order,” he said. “They deserve $30 million at their disposal if they need it.”

Damon Taugher, director of Direct Relief's United States Programs, is one of the many employees who has made the lengthy trip to Oklahoma in order to follow up with clinic partners and identify further needs. Taugher said in the first several days after the tornado several clinics saw an increased patient load, and many also decided to travel to Moore to provide support, which contributed to Direct Relief's increased order amount and expedited shipping times.

“The clinics are not first responders, but they are first receivers,” Taugher said.

The organization's current inventory of medications, stockpiled vaccines, as well as its corporate partnerships with transportation companies and medical product donors contributed immensely to their swift response, Tighe, president and CEO, said. The organization's main goal is to provide the necessary resources to the clinics because these facilities play a critical role every day, and even more so in emergency situations.

“We want to make sure they are as strong as they can be because they have a tough job, even on a good day,” he said.

Direct Relief is not sending medications that aren't needed or wanted; it is based on request, Tighe said. The majority of supplies being requested are medications for chronic illnesses, personal care products and personal protection devices for those cleaning up debris. Allergies, diabetes and hypertension are all examples of common chronic illnesses, according to The Center for Managing Chronic Disease.

“Those with chronic conditions are vulnerable to finding themselves in a health crisis even if they were safely evacuated,” he said.

After the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, Mo. two years ago, Direct Relief purchased a mobile medical unit to be used to help care for people in emergencies, Tighe said. The unit is currently deployed in Moore and is equipped with medical supplies.

“We have responded to a lot of these emergencies but it doesn't lessen the human senses,” he said.

Founded in 1948, Direct Relief provides medical assistance to people around the world who have been affected by poverty, natural disasters and civil unrest. Due to the organization's Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributor certification, it can safely and legally provide medications and supplies to health centers in the United States treating low income patients without insurance. In 2012, Forbes ranked Direct Relief International 30th among the top 100 largest U.S. charities.

Tighe said Direct Relief will continue to work until the needs are met in Oklahoma.

“Even when the attention fades, people are still in an awful situation,” he said. “It is the least we can do to take care of what we can.”