Private Companies Rush in to Help Hurricane Katrina Victims

Published October 1, 2005

Immediately following the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast states, the public health crisis became apparent. In response to the needs of victims in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, Wal-Mart President Lee Scott committed more than $15 million from the firm to jumpstart the relief effort.

Wal-Mart pledged to establish mini-Wal-Mart stores in areas affected by the hurricane. Items such as clothing, diapers, baby wipes, food, infant formula, toothbrushes, bedding, and water would be given free of charge to those with a demonstrated need, the firm announced.

Wal-Mart initially donated $2 million in cash to aid Katrina relief efforts through the Salvation Army and Red Cross. The company collected contributions at its 3,800 stores and Clubs and through its Web sites, and it offered victims an opportunity to post messages to loved ones using the Web in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.

Public, Private Aid Sent

The message service, launched the morning of September 1, had 600 messages and 50,000 viewers by mid-afternoon that day.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure we take care of our customers and associates,” said Scott in an August 31 statement.

“We have contributed $1 million in cash to the Salvation Army to help with activities such as providing 400,000 meals per day and portable showers, and another $1 million in cash to the American Red Cross to run their shelters and provide relief,” said Scott. “Additionally, $15 million from Wal-Mart has been committed for other relief efforts. We are also donating truckloads of supplies such as water and ice to the emergency services in these areas.”

Other private companies joined government agencies, relief organizations, and many religious groups and churches in rushing aid to the area.

Pharmaceutical Companies Send Help

On August 31, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced it had contacted local, state, and federal officials to assess how the company could best respond to the immediate humanitarian and health care needs and long-term rebuilding.

Pfizer launched several initiatives, detailed on its Web site, including:

  • $1 million for rebuilding hospitals and health care centers;
  • $1 million for relief organizations, including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and United Way of America;
  • donations of medicines and consumer and animal health products; and
  • an inventory of Pfizer services and employees’ skills that can be deployed as part of the relief and recovery efforts.

Others in the pharmaceutical industry, including AstraZeneca, Merck, Wyeth, Eli Lilly, and Johnson & Johnson, together contributed more than $9 million in cash and supplies including antibiotics, insulin, and toiletry kits to the affected areas. A team of officials at Eli Lilly & Co. loaded a private jet with antibiotics, tetanus shots, and insulin and took off for the Gulf Coast region on September 1, according to AP.

Additional Donations Planned

Lilly also planned to donate $1 million in insulin to victims in the affected areas, and the company will assess the appropriateness of donations of other medicines as specific needs become clearer.

“Starting today, with these donations of cash and life-saving insulin,” said Sidney Taurel, Lilly’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer, in a statement announcing the donation, “Lilly will do whatever we can to ease the suffering of survivors and help the affected communities rebuild.”

Taurel said the company recognizes the disaster will require a long-term commitment, noting Lilly will continue to monitor the situation to determine how the firm can best provide further aid to survivors.

Firms Donate Money, Products

A week after the storm, corporate aid was nearing the $100 million mark, with $85 million contributed and $15 to $20 million waiting to be counted and input by the Partnership for Disaster Relief, an initiative of the Business Roundtable, an association of 160 chief executive officers of major U.S. companies.

“There has been an overwhelming response by U.S. business to meet the needs of our neighbors,” said Johanna Schneider, executive director of the Partnership for Disaster Relief, which was founded in May.

Though not tallied in dollar amounts in early September, Schneider said there was an outpouring of products and services from corporations offering sheets, comforters, bottled water, medicine, and medical personnel. She estimated the corporate donations would “go dramatically higher” and eventually reach “record-setting levels.”

Other corporations assisting in relief efforts included UnitedHealth Group, Papa John’s Pizza, mortgage company Freddie Mac, Coca-Cola Co., and Kimberly-Clark Corp., which donated products including diapers, baby wipes, and bathroom tissue.

UnitedHealth Foundation of Minneapolis dedicated $10 million to disaster relief efforts. The not-for-profit foundation is funded by UnitedHealth Group.

Medical Groups Rally

Medical associations responded to the disaster by calling on members to help in any way possible. Beyond financial contributions, groups such as the San Diego-based American Surgical Hospital Association (ASHA) offered their services to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

They shared news among members to ascertain what the immediate needs would be. A message from Kirk Long, CEO of The NeuroMedical Center in Baton Rogue, an ASHA member, was circulated in the first days of the crisis:

“There is a great need for critical care facilities,” wrote Long. “Unfortunately, we are not able to take critically ill and/or vent type patients [patients who need ventilators]. The other surgical hospital in town, Surgical Specialty Centre (led by Shannon McConnell, CEO), is also providing employees, RNs, and staff to go assist at the shelters, as well as taking patients.

“I have already dispensed the majority of our emergency medical supplies and drugs to the Slidell area,” Long continued. “Cipro, amoxil, and other oral antibiotics are in great demand due to a huge number of infections from people wading around in the water. Any small cut quickly becomes infected.”

Private Contributions Typical

Corporations and associations involved in Katrina relief also pledged to match the contributions of their employees and members to relief organizations such as the Red Cross.

“Capitalism and charity go hand in hand. This has always been true,” said John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. “In the 19th century heyday of capitalism, America was the most charitable country in the world.”

Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.

For more information …

A six-page matrix detailing business involvement in the Partnership for Disaster Relief is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #17721.