Uptown from the rubble of Ground Zero in the winter of 2002, I sorted socks, boots, and flashlight batteries in a makeshift warehouse of donated supplies as part of a company-sponsored volunteer activity. Men and women covered in dust and soot impatiently visited to restock throughout the day, eager to return to the awful work that needed to be done. For the victims. For their city.
Weeks later, in one of my assigned hospital accounts, I met with leaders of the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), who had deployed to Ground Zero just after the attack. They told me of the overwhelming need for basic resources: bandages, antibiotics, pain meds.
“I have a climate-controlled storage facility of medicine samples and supplies,” I shared. “There are networks of drug reps just like me—in every city and town in the country.” We had cars, cell phones, and the legal means to transfer sample medications to licensed prescribers. What we did not have was a plan or any proof of how we might help.
The DMAT doctors introduced me to state representatives of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, State of Rhode Island Department of Health, and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the next 18 months, a plan took shape: a voluntary network of drug company representatives willing to answer a call for resources—like Uber, only delivering medicines and supplies—not as first-line responders but to potentially ease the strain caused by massive supply needs during a crisis.
To test for proof-of-concept, our volunteers, over 100 pharmaceutical representatives from six different companies, were asked to participate in a two-day exercise simulating biological weapon attacks had occurred. Our surprising results were presented at a poster session of the 2004 American Public Health Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
In 2005, I presented our plan and results of our exercise at the National Environmental Health Association meeting in Providence, R.I., where I asked an audience of emergency planners, “What if you have to evacuate a city?”—two months before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Having identified a need, created a plan, met all legal and regulatory challenges, built a coalition, tested the plan, and presented our results, I knew we had something good. “This is good,” agreed a Director of Pharmacy for my largest account, “but not at my hospital. You’re Big Pharma, and the political climate is not right for partnering with you.”
I never saw that coming. By 2006, the Pharmaceutical Industry Volunteer Disaster Response Plan was done.
As part of my military training many years earlier, I had to memorize the words of General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army, who said, “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” I had always thought this was about humility, i.e., acknowledging individual contributions and team achievements to elevate others ahead of advancing one’s own agenda. I had not considered the real lesson might be the null hypothesis to Marshall’s quote: “There is a limit to the good you can do if you do care who gets the credit.” Either way, be it pride or politics, not acknowledging what others contribute is limiting.
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