Providing Relief to Patients in the Aftermath of a Disaster

On the morning of September 20, 2017, a new chapter of history opened in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria began her barrage against the island, altering the lives of more than 3 million people, including 1,100 Bristol-Myers Squibb employees.

After raging for more than 12 hours, the Category 4 storm finally moved on but not before causing unprecedented and widespread damage – and one of the largest humanitarian crises ever seen in the Caribbean. Homes were battered, some beyond repair. Entire communities were stranded for weeks, and many people were tracking time by the number of days they had gone without electricity or running water.

When the storm began, operations at our commercial sites in Guaynabo, our pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Humacao and its biologics plant in Manati were halted – but not for long – as both sites play a key role in supplying life-saving medications for patients around the world.

Not long after Maria barreled across the island, employees like Jose Ponce DeLeon Gonzalez, a Senior Packaging Technologist at Manati, began making their way to work.

Jose walked 10 miles across roads littered with sand, downed trees and power lines to ensure the plant was operational. “If the equipment doesn’t operate, then the medicines cannot be produced,” Jose says. Jose and other employees are the embodiment of commitment to our mission. “For us, it was extremely important to get operations back to normal because the difference between treatment and disruption of treatment could be life or death,” says Alejandro Drevon, General Manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. We worked quickly following the storm to ensure all of our employees were safe and accounted for. As soon as airports reopened, the company began flying in relief supplies – portable generators, water, canned food and ice – that were distributed daily at the two manufacturing sites as well as the commercial offices.

When the first batch of cancer medicine for patients rolled off the line at Manati within days of the plant resuming operations, employees felt they had turned a page in the chapter of history that began when the storm hit.

“When we were able to package the first product, that wasn’t just a major milestone from an engineering or discovery perspective but from an emotional perspective,” said Anibal Carlo, Vice President & General Manager of the Manati site. “It’s a sign that if we as a company can do this, then we can do it for all of Puerto Rico.” “Our employees consider the company mission part of their larger role in society. To them, it was clear – if these medicines don’t make it to patients, people will suffer and the impact of Hurricane Maria will have reached much farther than just Puerto Rico.”

The dedication and commitment of our employees in Puerto Rico helped ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines to patients and restarted site operations faster than anyone could have expected.

“The hurricane put living the company mission in a different perspective,” says Beatriz Sanabria, Human Resources Director in Puerto Rico. “We know we work for patients and that we are conducting manufacturing campaigns because there’s a patient waiting for product out there. But doing it in the midst of an emergency like this took it to another level.”

I work to save lives, so that people can recover from cancer and other diseases. That is our mission.

Jose Ponce DeLeon Gonzalez, Senior Packaging Technologist