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New London MA spearheads Puerto Rico earthquake relief effort

In early February 2020, Northeast Medical Group physicians and staff embarked on humanitarian trips to Puerto Rico to bring medical supplies to those affected by the recent series of earthquakes. Sheila Marerro, MA from the Multispecialty Center in New London was the driving force behind the initiative. She was inspired by a late-night news story about a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in southwestern Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, 2020.

“There was a doctor who had lost her home,” said Marerro. “To make matters worse, the first floor of her home was her clinic. Amidst her devastating loss, this doctor continued to serve, both on-call and as a hospitalist, and put up tents across the street to assist the community around her. I couldn’t sleep that night, and realized I had to do my part.”

After discussions with NEMG leaders, Marerro was given the go-ahead to start relief efforts. She sent an email to Robert Mitchell, practice operations manager and chair of the NEMG Community Outreach Committee stating her vision, mission and purpose. Her request quickly escalated to senior levels, including Marna Borgstrom, CEO, YNHHS and Dr. Prathibha Varkey, president and CEO, NEMG, who whole-heartedly supported Marerro, NEMG and others from across the health system who rallied to Puerto Rico’s aid.

Marerro’s next task was to organize the logistics of donating medical supplies. NEMG’s Stephanie Beauton, associate director, regional practice operations, also volunteered to help. She helped brainstorm ideas and acquire items needed for consults, e.g., hats, backpacks, insect repellant, sunblock, hand sanitizer and more. Marerro also connected with Marrietta Vazquez, MD, FAAP, from YNHH. With 20 years of experience in global missions, Dr. Vazquez reached out to her network and formed a team of providers. In addition, U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Harelik, Marerro's good friend, helped with logistics based on platoon organization techniques learned during his tour in Afghanistan. “He was the angel behind the scenes that nobody knew about,” said Marerro.

“NEMG-and Yale New Haven Hospital are the shining stars that will motivate other hospitals and nonprofit organizations to continue this amazing effort in helping others in need, not only in my country, but around the world,” said Marerro.