Mass. General prepares team for Philippines

Victims of Typhoon Haiyan loaded up sacks of rice in the town of Pilar on Panay Island.
Victims of Typhoon Haiyan loaded up sacks of rice in the town of Pilar on Panay Island.(EPA)

Massachusetts General Hospital is preparing to send as many as two dozen volunteers to the Philippines to provide health care on the island of Panay, which took a direct hit earlier this month from Typhoon Haiyan.

The volunteers, who could begin their trip as soon as Friday or Saturday, will be assisting a regional hospital in the province of Capiz that had limited resources even before the storm. They will be part of a team of volunteers for Project Hope, a nonprofit that typically works with the US Navy on hospital ships deployed for disaster response.

This time the group will work on the ground. While the hospital lost much of its roof in the storm, has no running water, and has only limited power supplied by a generator, it is staffed with doctors and nurses.


“We are there to support them, not to replace them, and to help them recover,” Hilarie Cranmer, director of disaster response at Mass. General’s Center for Global Health, said during a briefing Wednesday afternoon for volunteers.

Another Mass. General team has been working with the International Medical Corps in hard-hit coastal communities on Panay, and a group of physicians trained in disaster medicine from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is in the decimated city of Tacloban to the east.

The Project Hope mission will be more inland, in areas where the damage generally was less severe but where there has been little attention from aid workers.

It was not clear on Wednesday exactly how many workers from Mass. General would be selected for the trip. Several other health care institutions are vying for spots on the Project Hope team of about 30 people, who will be chosen based on medical specialty, language skills, and other criteria, Cranmer said.

“It’s literally like the of disasters,” she said.


Before reviewing safety protocols, vaccination requirements, and the project’s leadership structure, Cranmer urged patience. Volunteers will face tough conditions and stressful moments.

“Smile a lot,” she said. “This will be one of the hardest things for you to do, and it will be one of the most valuable things you can do.”

Arme Gallanaro, a nurse case manager originally from a city south of Capiz called Iloilo, said she and her husband were in the midst of home repairs when the typhoon swept across the archipelago nation on the other side of the globe.

She was moved to help. “My people have completely lost their homes,” she said. Gallanaro’s immediate family was mostly spared, but some friends and former classmates were badly affected.

About 400 Mass. General workers offered, through the global health center’s website, to volunteer for missions to the Philippines soon after the storm. Fifteen percent of them were Filipino or had family ties there, Cranmer said.

Melissa Fantasia of Canton was already headed to the Philippines next month. Her son is marrying his longtime girlfriend, who is Filipina, just before Christmas. She said she jumped at the chance to go early to help, a decision her son supported.

The goal will be simple, she said: “Try to improve somebody’s day.”

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.