Season’s greetings! Hopefully you are getting ready for the holidays, and also in a mood to celebrate, ’cause after a year like we’ve had there’s no better way for us to finish it off.
2013 has been an amazing year for Trek Medics. And it’s thanks to the hard work of so many dedicated people who believe that just a little bit of hard work now can pay off in very big ways. We’re really trying to do something very simple – make basic help available where it’s needed, whenever it’s needed – and without your willingness to get involved in our work, the simplest of healthcare services would continue to be overlooked.
Most of you probably know that one of the keystones of our work is our mobile phone software, Beacon, a simple and inexpensive software that turns a basic laptop and a cheap modem into a 911-style emergency dispatch service for communities that can’t afford advanced technologies. The need for such technology can’t be overstated: up to 80% of the world’s population has no reliable way to call for help during an emergency. Without this, basic problems like broken bones, burns, and complicated childbirths turn into far bigger problems – problems that would otherwise be considered “preventable” in our own countries.
The good news is that we’ve made a lot of ground in the past year, and while I suspect you’ve had your fill of “2013 Year in Review” lists at this point, I hope you’ll take the time to read one more, included below, because this is one list you’ve all had a direct hand in shaping. It really is hard to believe that so much has happened in just one year, but what’s more impressive to us is that we’ve done this through little more than the generous support of many different people – whether through donations of money, time, or just by making introductions to the right people. The caliber of support and encouragement we’ve received and have been able to build on reinforces our conviction that we’re really on to something big, and we’re doing it the right way with the right people. There are so many people we’d like to thank, and plan on posting them on a new supporters page, but we’d like to thank in particular our Columbia U. family, including the MacPhee Family, Chris McGarry, the Executive MPH program, and Ellen Coleman who helped us celebrate our successful campaign season at one of her world-famous healthcare salons.
We are so grateful for all of your work and support; it really means so much to us! But there is still much more to be done so we hope to see everyone back out on the road in the New Year.
Please continue to keep us in your thoughts as we are certainly doing the same for you, wishing you a safe and happy holiday season.
From all the Trek Medics,
Beacon training, Nov-Dec 2013
Dispatches from the Field Haiti, December 2013 By Mike McGee
While the weather outside may be frightful for many readers across the US, rest assured that it’s still warm and sunny on the southern coast of Haiti!
Thankfully, the lead-up to the holiday season has brought a lull in emergency cases in Aquin and the surrounding region. However, there certainly hasn’t been a lack of work for Trek Medics and our local partners, the “Équipe Communautaire pour la Réponse aux Urgences”, or ECRU. While our progress was hindered by a bout of sickness that kept me in bed for a few days and resulted in two trips to the local hospital for consultations, I eventually regained my strength and was able to push forward with the team.
When not transporting patients, we’ve been collaborating regularly to further develop the structure of the ECRU and secure basic infrastructure for the future success of their activities in the community. After several sessions together, we’ve established the ECRU’s mission, vision, and values, and will be working in the coming months to further define the organization’s role in the community – a shared sense of mission and direction cannot be underestimated.
The past month has also led to a number of new opportunities for connecting and collaborating with representatives from the government, who we’re actively seeking to engage. We had a chance to speak to the Haitian Minister of Tourism on the importance of emergency medical care in developing Haiti’s tourism industry. Also, we’ve begun working with local representatives from the Haitian Ministry of Health to provide first aid training for community health workers in the region. These community health workers play an important role in identifying public health issues and providing basic medical care and consultation for those living in the region’s remote villages.
We also had an important meeting in early December with Haiti’s largest telecommunications provider, Digicel. Their support will not only be integral in the success of our BEACON emergency dispatch software, but also in effectively engaging the government for support of our program. With this in mind, we were thrilled that they took an immediate interest in our approach to EMS in Haiti!
While expanding the ECRU’s reach into the community and beginning dialogues with various governmental and private entities, we’ve also been working on improving communications within the organization. An integral part of this was a 3-day BEACON training done with several members of the team. With the help of ECRU members already involved in Beacon testing, we were able to introduce the system to a number of new team members. It was exciting to see how much those already familiar with the system were able to bring the new trainees up to speed. After a few days of practicing table-top scenarios, we set out into the community for some full-scale emergency dispatch simulations. These were successfully executed and provided an opportunity for the team to showcase their skills.
As this year winds to a close, it’s certainly important to reflect on all that’s happened in the past few months since I’ve arrived in Aquin. I’m certainly thrilled with the progress that Trek Medics and the ECRU have made thus far, while also recognizing that there still remains a lot of work to do in 2014. I am looking forward to a short vacation with family for the holidays, after which I’ll be rested and ready to return and tackle the challenges that the new year brings.
So, from all of us here in Aquin, thank you to our generous donors for your continuing support, and best wishes for the holiday season!
Mike McGee Haiti, Dec. 2013
Doors to improvement: A woman in labor is transported to the hospital in Aquin, Haiti.
mHealth Summit in Washington, DC
By Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman
Dec. 8, Interstate 95 – Jason and I slogged through the first real snowstorm of the season on our way to Washington DC with his electronic rock providing the soundtrack. I prefer country, but never minding all that, we had business to do.
We were headed down to the mHealth Summit, right outside Washington DC, where we had been graciously offered a free booth by the mHealth Alliance, an advocacy alliance hosted by various foundations including the Rockefeller, UN, and Vodafone foundations. For those unfamiliar, “mHealth” is short for mobile-health. The expression represents the idea that immense progress can be made in healthcare by integrating mobile technologies into the toolsets available to healthcare providers.
On the way down we went over how we would present our case to each different type of organization we might come across at the conference. Mobile phones, in conjunction with our simple software, Beacon, can create a 911-style ambulance dispatching service where none currently exists. The resulting, financially sustainable ambulance service would be comprised of local community members, including taxi- and truck-drivers, who have received basic, essential emergency response training.
We also couldn’t help but notice that the cars which hadn’t fared so well in the snow were stuck on the side of the road. Jason and I both know that there are many places in the world where, when things like that happen, you are just simply on your own until some Good Samaritan takes pity on you. Fortunately, the travelers on I-95 were never far from trained professionals – and we saw plenty of them.
As we crossed the bridge into Virginia, the convention complex was already in view. The conference center was enormous and connected to the even more enormous hotel complex. Then, this was all surrounded by enough shopping and restaurants to discourage anyone from leaving. Inside, the self-contained community became only more bizarre. A pre-teen beauty pageant and dance competition was apparently just wrapping up and all of the pre-teens, severely made-up in their Scarlett O’Hara, antebellum-best, were everywhere. We wondered if we were at the right conference.
With our bags finally stowed and suits hanging up, we went to have a look at the convention floor. As the work crews made final preparations on the day before the show began, we found our place among the medical device vendors, integration software people, the well-known telecoms (Sprint, Verizon, Vodafone), and a large selection of other NGOs, many focused on maternal/child health.
The real fun began the next morning. We suited up and manned our booth which may have been missing the thousand-dollar displays of the big telecoms, but we drew plenty of attention. People would walk by slowly, turn their heads and many would finally ask… “So what does Trek Medics do?”
“Improve Emergency Medical Care Anywhere.” And we would continue on discussing our ideas, our progress and our plans. As is often the case, whether they were interested or not, people were impressed – everyone seems to relate to things going wrong. There’s always scrutiny, and rightly so, as what we’re proposing doesn’t always seem feasible at first blush, but we have plenty of answers at the ready to meet questions about driver training, system financing and potential technology miscues. The fact of the matter is we’re simply looking to improve the systems that already exist. “If you want to find out how these systems work, go down to the hospital and ask the folks in the waiting room, ‘How did you get here’ – that’s where our systems starts.” Needless to say, many business cards were exchanged and Jason and I have both been following up with representatives of the business, tech and NGO fields.
The business day ended with a few hors d’oeuvres provided by the conference hosts – so we humbled ourselves before their generosity and dug in. Jason and I knew that each conversation was another step on the way, so we’d talk to anyone who was willing to listen. You never know when that one person will turn into a vital, full-time partner, or just a small part of a greater network that allows us to complete the mission we’ve committed to.
So the work continues and there is always tons to be done. Every little contribution from each person involved, at whatever level, becomes part of our effort to deliver vital medical care to people who don’t have it. Solutions are really possible and every day we are getting closer to making a major impact.
I look forward to seeing many of you at our after-holiday bash, but until then, Merry Christmas, happy holidays and Happy New Year.
Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman NYC, Dec. 2013
While the IndieGoGo Campaign was successful in raising over $40,000, we still have a couple perks left over, so if you’re still looking to share the holiday cheer (or you forgot to get your boss or father-in-law a gift) consider helping us by giving a gift that gives back.
We have several of our Good Samaritan Silk Ties (shown above), and we’re only asking for a minimum $50 donation. The ties are designed by our in-house artist, Rex Kalehoff, and made by Vineyard Vines. To get yours, click here. (Did we mention they’re silk?)
January, NYC – Jason randomly finds himself in a classroom sitting next to Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman, an EMT and former Peace Corps volunteer with whom he had exchanged emails over a year earlier about their respective work improving ambulance services in Haiti and Morocco. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Aaron to get onboard, and he’s been pushing us along in big ways ever since.
In February, Aaron introduced us to Mike Ryave, a software developer preparing for medical school. After a few conversations, he, too, jumped on board and has played an integral role as part of our development team with Mike Samuels and Dr. Will Prescott; at the same time, BakerBotts LLP, a global IP law firm agreed to take us on pro bono, and our Medical Director, Kevin Munjal, published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association
March-May was largely spent in coffee shop testing sessions, fine-tuning Beacon’s performance and efficiency; Matt Gamache, a paramedic and long-time collaborator from San Diego picked up where Paul Maxwell and Jason had left off in Tijuana, crossing the border to ride along with the Red Cross and to begin developing plans for future, expanded partnerships in Baja California; Ernst Schirmer, our Risk Manager, played a pivotal role with the NYC team in shaping our strategic approach and core business plans.
June was our go-date: after months of testing and improvements, Dr. Will Prescott and Jason traveled back down to Haiti where they met up with Mike McGee and our local emergency response partners to conduct live field-testing with Beacon.
July-August brought another round of intensive testing and software development to make improvements on what we’d learned in Haiti; we also had the privilege of hosting an informational session at the Greenwich Library in Greenwich, CT, and began working with the Columbia Alumni Entrepreneurship program
In November, we made another trip back to Haiti, this time with Mike Ryave to help us sort through some of the technical challenges we were facing with the hardware, and also to assist our local partners in a presentation to the Haitian Ministry of Tourism. This trip ended with a serendipitous run-in with senior management from Digicel, Haiti’s major telecom provider and a partner we could not move forward without; the New York Times also picked up on a few of our thoughts and published them in a Letter to the Editor
December has been as much of a whirlwind as any other month:
– A second meeting with Digicel to move forward in Haiti
– A booth at the mHealth Summit conference with over 5,500 attendees (scroll down) for a report from Aaron) – Meetings at the World Bank, USAID, Sen. Chris Murphy (CT) set up by Robert “Gus” Gustafson, with thanks to Bank Street Group (Stamford, CT)
– A presentation to Rotary International in Greenwich, CT
– A demo booth at the Columbia Alumni Entrepreneurship night, “Tech and the City”
Jason is a paramedic by training and has been working in international development since 2003. Jason has spent many years living in Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe, working for a number of recognized international humanitarian organizations. Aside from ambulance operations and EMS management, he has also worked as a flight medic and paramedic instructor, a contributing author for EMS publications, and provides consulting for a range of global health initiatives in both systems development and disaster response.