A Multi-Layered Relief Operation

How Technology is Helping Refugees in Greece

Dr. John Roberts engages with a young refugee in Greece while providing medical care with Team Rubicon to those misplaced by conflict in the Middle East.

Team Rubicon is providing primary medical care to refugees in Greece, a challenge which has proven to be twofold. As a rapidly expanding organization, the tools used to contend with larger scale crises Team Rubicon responds to, such as in Greece, requires highly-skilled people to fulfill the mission processes on the ground but also takes a tremendous amount of skilled support from staff back in the US.

“To meet our goals, we need a collaboration of skilled technology volunteers with full-time technical staff. The skilled volunteers provide critical personnel bandwidth while the TR staff members maintain a consistent delivery of services,” said Steve Hunt, Team Rubicon’s Chief Information Officer.

The daily BlueJeans VTC meetings between our teams in Greece, the National Operations Center in Texas, at homes and offices around the country has enabled TR to coordinate and adjust as personnel back at our National Headquarters Office to learn about the real clinic needs.

“Even with these great communication systems, we have to understand that our National Office will always be the last to know what is happening in the field. As leaders, we need to participate directly to learn the real problems, drive reporting, and sow what we learn into practical long-term impact,” Hunt added.

The TR conch shell was sounded using Everbridge, a mass communications system, and our volunteer members, the backbone of the organization, heard the call for help.

It was answered by Tim Tran of Region 9 and Jerritt Gideon of Region 6 who put the pieces together for the implementation of the Medical Records System, a more resilient way of “getting shit done” for the medical team treating refugees at the clinic. The medical record system ensures a quality patient experience on the front end and strong reporting when the day is done.

Hunt said, “In order for our missions to continue we must help and protect our patients’ data while remaining vigilant with transparency for our supporters.”

Tim (left) and Jerritt (right) filled critical technology roles while working at the national office.

“Jerritt and Tim were absolutely vital to our success and everything we were able to accomplish when we had staff down-range and out at Defcon after an all-nighter at the office.”

Jerritt has been a firefighter and paramedic for ten years in Fort Worth, Texas. In 2013, he responded to the fatal fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas with our US partner in field technologies, the ITDRC (Information Technology Disaster Resource Center) and first learned of Team Rubicon who was responding as well on Operation Go West. He has been a TR member for a year, while also serving as Region 6’s Technology Manager. Jerritt rogered up after receiving the call-out through a TR-wide email sent by our membership team.

Tim Tran from Anaheim, California found out about TR two years ago. He deployed locally to flood mitigation operations in Silverado Canyon with Team Rubicon Region 9. As for how he ended up volunteering with the TR Tech Team, he quipped, “They requested me directly. Don’t know why. Someone must’ve thought I knew what I was doing for some reason.”

Tim is a student studying geographic information systems at Long Beach State and is quite multi-faceted, exploring various culinary styles to rock climbing and he can also swing a chainsaw.

Travis Harris, our newly minted technology team bad ass doing some heavy lifting on the MRS.

“Travis, a new addition to the national team we stole from Region VIII, worked seamlessly with Jerrit and Tim as a force multiplier for readying the medical record system. I see the teaming of employees with our members making us stronger,” said Hunt.

This project is one of the most advanced high-return software technology challenges TR has dealt with to date. The digital Medical Records System is more effective than paper and the tech team investment has already saved the equivalent of what it costs to pay a TR staff member for a year. In keeping with requirements established by medical professionals on the ground, the MRS will be an electronic version of the same paper forms, which will improve care and strengthen administrative reporting. It’s on a laptop that can be run on a car battery — something not difficult to find, usually — and remains confined to a local, protected network.

“We are dead serious about the protection of this at-risk population, and have a clear security plan for managing all electronic systems and all forms of information”, Hunt noted.

For a patient to receive medical care, he or she first signs a consent form crafted by our legal team to meet EU standards. Docusign, another TR tech partner, built a custom application during their “Hack for Good” for field use, so the process of moving from a paper to a digital signature is underway.

Next, a patient receiving medical care is entered into the MRS which goes into the database at the primary care center or hospital. And for the team in the field, it’s lightweight, which is always a good thing for our fleet-of-foot mobile teams.

The most notable advantage of the Medical Records System is that it won’t be going anywhere, except on every needed TR operation in the future. Tim, Jerritt, along with the Technology Team, worked through a difficult administrative process while Marine veteran and full-time staff member Jeff Burns served as the forward-deployed technologies expert in Greece.

Team Rubicon’s Technology Associate Jeff Burns (third from the right) deployed to Greece to provide tech support to those providing medical support abroad.

Jeff handled many administrative duties that included helping clinicians adopt a secure information management model for planning data graciously provided by Box. He actively supported the implementation of the Medical Record System, but also faced his responsibility of caring for refugees displaced by conflict in the Middle East.

Jeff arrived in Greece with the first wave medical team, where they had been utilizing papers on clipboards for patient care and reporting. While clipboards and paper can be effective for a smaller patient population, the delivery of quality care and reporting won’t scale as the camp population grows toward 700.

“Jeff has done an incredible job. He’s the type of guy who has the capacity to work well with the guy who takes out the trash, or the Vice President of the United States,” said Hunt. “Greece is a different situation, because field personnel deal with the pressures from managers at headquarters and world organizations as well as the minute-by-minute pressures and responsibilities for caring for people fleeing their war-torn homelands at the same time.”

Paramedic Casey Boardman collects information from patients seeking primary medical care.

It was a rewarding experience for Jeff, as a Marine Corps veteran who had seen first-hand the type of war refugees were fleeing because it’s a shared experience, which the adult refugees expressed appreciation for when he told them he’d served in the U.S. military.

“Working with war refugees is one of the best ways for a veteran to reintegrate into something else meaningful,” Jeff said.

Most of those from Syria arriving at the medical center are fleeing the northern city of Aleppo, one of the hardest-hit areas. There have been several NGOs working with refugees in Greece for months if not years, but TR is one of a few NGOs fully authorized by the Greek government to provide medical aid, acute care, and full physical screenings in coordination with the Greek hospitals. The refugee camp the team is serving is the only one with medical coverage 24 hours a day by qualified medical providers with the experience to triage the level of medical emergencies patients are experiencing, which is a more efficient way of utilizing the valuable resources of a depleted system in Northern Greece.

The camp is set to become self-sustainable, where residents work, play, and learn unlike typical refugee camps that only provide shelter. TR continues to work on pushing it in a sustainable direction.

Jeff described a story of a farmer back in Iraq, and his family who began gardening near the medical center, a sign the refugees are bringing valuable skills for a more comfortable living environment.

Jeff (right) and Remas, a young refugee who befriended many of those providing medical care in the camp.

Children arriving carried expressions that told a painful story and an emotional experience, but soon their expressions seemed to be transformed into trusting smiles, Jeff said.

“The kids were constantly hanging out with us in the clinics, running around, playing doctor, always wanting to see what I was doing — they were so grateful,” Jeff said.

“It’s like that thing people say ‘it restored my faith in humanity,’ well this is different, and it really did. How people can leave such hardships and make the best of their situation.”

Written by Team Rubicon’s communications intern Patrick O’Neill.

To learn how you can get involved, visit teamrubiconusa.org.