While widely known for its responses to some of the worst overseas disasters in recent years, Goleta-based Direct Relief has been working domestically in the United States for decades and here in Santa Barbara County for 50 years.
To end any misconceptions, the organization recently dropped “International” from the end of its name. “It removes a point of potential confusion,” said Direct Relief executive director Thomas Tighe. Indeed, Direct Relief is very active on the home front, just as it is abroad. The organization works with neighborhood clinics and social service agencies around the country in all 50 states in an effort to keep the uninsured and under-insured healthy.
Direct Relief had been active in the U.S. for awhile, Tighe said, but it really upped the ante after Hurricane Katrina. At the time, officials in the organization — which began in 1948 — found it difficult to find where unmet needs existed, Tighe explained, so they created a structure to improve efficiencies. When all was said and done, Direct Relief was the first nonprofit licensed to distribute prescription medication in all 50 states. Now, the organization — which employs around 50 people — is the largest charitable medication donor in the United States, reaching out to more than 1,000 clinics.
But not only does Direct Relief’s network provide increased access to medication, now there is a system in place to react quickly in cases of emergency, such as Oklahoma’s tornado devastation a month ago. Because of that network, Direct Relief was able to quickly get in touch with health centers in the area and delivered more than $790,000 in emergency medical supplies. A few months prior to that, Direct Relief was engaged in helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
Locally, Direct Relief is helping stock the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics with medication and offering support to the county Public Health Department, realizing the importance in keeping track of what’s going on in our own backyard. “If it’s happening in Santa Barbara, it’s at least worth inquiring about in other places,” Tighe said.