PROVIDENCE — At first they wanted to send a plane with medical supplies to India. The doctors and other staffers at Care New England in Rhode Island were watching in horror as India suffered one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises, a few months after Rhode Island had that distinction.
The outpouring of supplies and money was so swift, though, that one plane became two. Then two became three. Then three became four, with the last of the supplies organized in pallets Tuesday evening and loaded onto a truck Wednesday morning.
“It’s a lot of work,” Brad Morisseau, supply chain manager for Care New England, said in a telephone interview as the forklift he was operating beeped in the background. “It’s crazy, the outpouring of support that folks from the community were providing.”
The supplies were staged at the field hospital in Cranston on Sockanosset Cross Road, which is no longer in use by patients. They are headed to New Jersey to be put in available space on United flights from Newark to Delhi, according to Dr. Jinen Thakkar, a hospitalist at Care New England who was one of the main organizers of the effort, along with Morisseau and Dr. Laura Forman, an emergency physician.
The first plane landed Tuesday and will be received by an aid group working with the World Health Organization, Thakkar said. Others will be received by the Indian Red Cross Society.
When they were first arranging the flights, coronavirus cases in India were logging hundreds of thousands a day, but even those staggering tolls might have been undercounts.
Things have gotten better since then, but they’re still in need, particularly in smaller towns, Thakkar said. The current plan is for the supplies to be distributed to towns that ring bigger cities, Thakkar said.
The very first flight has things like ventilators and other oxygen delivery equipment, Thakkar said. Others will have personal protective equipment and testing kits. One Rhode Island company that makes equipment for people to dive in the ocean, Lombardi Undersea, donated CPAP machines and oxygen hoses, Thakkar said.
The hospital system also raised money through its foundation, which it used to buy supplies through existing supply chain networks. Morisseau estimated the total value at about $2 million.
For people who aren’t usually in this line of work, it was a crash course in international shipping logistics, customs, and charitable aid. There were unexpected hurdles, but they got over them. For instance, when you send a pallet of supplies across continents, it turns out you have to precisely weigh and measure them. They can’t be too tall, or else you’ll have to rearrange them.
And how do you weigh a pallet? Not on a bathroom scale. An official from the Hospital Association of Rhode Island overheard the Care New England team talking about how in the world they’d be able to get the right scale, and found one in a state warehouse, Morisseau said. Then they had to figure out how to build a ramp to get pallets onto the scale. They built the ramp.
“I was telling Brad and Laura, if we want to drop our jobs, we can do this instead,” Thakkar said. “I don’t think that will happen. But I think this opportunity that we got is truly uplifting.”