Disaster Relief Katrina, Rita And Other Natural Disasters - Business Should And Does Help Victims

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Jeffrey B. Kindler, Vice Chairman, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of Pfizer Inc.

Editor: Give us a summary of the help provided by The Business Roundtable and its members in connection with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the tsunami.

Kindler: The Business Roundtable is an association of 160 CEOs of America's leading corporations. It is currently chaired by Hank McKinnell, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive officer.

When the tsunami devastated Asia, individual corporate members of the Roundtable responded generously with aid, contributing over $200 million dollars. Pfizer, for example, not only provided funding and medications, but immediately deployed Pfizer experts to help with the logistical challenges of getting relief to those who needed it, as well as address various immediate health threats and the longer-term issue of rebuilding the healthcare infrastructure.

Support for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was equally immediate. To date, Business Roundtable members collectively have contributed nearly $269 million in funding, services, supplies and equipment to support the hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. Gulf.

From our experience with tsunami recovery efforts, we, at Pfizer, understood some of the special "on the ground" challenges facing those attempting to bring relief to those in affected areas. Building on what we had learned in Asia, in addition to funding and medications, Pfizer supply chain management experts were loaned to local health departments in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to set up distribution centers and to manage the inventory of medications, healthcare and other donations traveling into the affected areas. Existing partnerships with hospitals and health centers allowed Pfizer medications to get to shelters and relief sites in Baton Rouge, Houston, and Dallas as had our partnerships in Thailand and Indonesia.

Editor: Explain The Business Roundtable Partnership for Disaster Relief . What triggered the idea for the Partnership?

Kindler: In the aftermath of the tsunami, Business Roundtable members recognized the benefits that could result from a more coordinated response to natural disasters. This was the impetus behind the creation of the Partnership for Disaster Relief which aims to facilitate deployment of the resources and expertise of U.S. businesses to enhance and accelerate on-the-ground relief and recovery.

Hurricane Katrina provided the first test for the Partnership for Disaster Relief . As had been the case with the tsunami, the business community provided a robust and immediate response, partnering with government and relief organizations to help throughout the disaster. The Partnership for Disaster Relief successfully integrated the capabilities of a variety of sectors - health, technology, financial services, construction, transportation and communications - into a coordinated private sector response.

Editor: What role will Pfizer play in the long term recovery of the Gulf States devastated by the hurricanes?

Kindler: Even before the hurricanes, Pfizer played a role in the healthcare of people in the Gulf States through programs such as Sharing the Care and the Pfizer Hospital Partnership Program, two of Pfizer's programs that improve availability to quality healthcare for underserved populations across the U.S. Sharing the Care provides patients with free Pfizer medications through federally qualified U.S. health centers depending on their income level. Similarly, the Pfizer Hospital Partnership program provides free medications through the largest public hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of low-income and uninsured patients.

After the hurricane, we immediately sent the hospitals and health centers in the Gulf States an additional $1 million worth of medications. Through the end of the year, we have streamlined the enrollment process in both these programs in the Gulf States to ensure that eligible hurricane victims get access to Pfizer medications.

In addition to helping with some of the immediate healthcare needs of the hurricane victims, Pfizer pledged funding for longer term relief in the affected region. Many of our community health centers and public hospital partners were damaged or destroyed by the hurricanes. Pfizer plans to help them rebuild their operations so they can continue to play a vital role in providing adequate primary and preventive care for the medically underserved.

Editor: As corporate general counsel, what has been your role in support of the relief effort?

Kindler: At Pfizer, one of our key values is community. We strongly believe in playing an active role in making every country and community in which we operate a better place to live and work, knowing that the ongoing vitality of our host nations and local communities has a direct impact on the long-term health of our business. This is true, whether there is a disaster or not. Citizenship defines our role in local and global communities and how we strive to conduct business responsibly in a changing world. For that reason, we integrate citizenship throughout the entire company.

Philanthropy is, of course, a part of that commitment to citizenship, and we strongly believe that the most effective way to provide support is through partnerships with public and private organizations. In fact, according to its last survey, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranks Pfizer as one of the top corporate donors.

As General Counsel, and a member of Pfizer's Executive Committee, it is my privilege to support that value not only through my own personal actions, but through that of the colleagues in both the Legal and Corporate Affairs Divisions which report into me.

Pfizer Legal Division colleagues have repeatedly been recognized for their pro bono work and since the hurricane we have reached out to organizations in affected states to provide whatever support we could, including providing laptops to legal services providers. In addition, a Legal colleague has been on one of the three relief teams Pfizer sent to the Gulf States.

Following the tsunami, our Legal Division colleague in Thailand was part of the team responsible for creating a Pfizer-sponsored symposium on post-traumatic stress disorder which included representatives from government, relief organizations and mental health professionals.

Pfizer colleagues from Corporate Affairs, by nature of their everyday roles and existing local relationships, have played a critical role in assessing what was needed in both relief efforts, and how Pfizer resources could best be brought in to help. And of course, individual colleagues in both Legal and Corporate Affairs have pursued a wide variety of personal opportunities to help as well.

Editor: Tell us how Pfizer's philosophy with respect to corporate social responsibility was put into practice in connection with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the tsunami.

Kindler: As a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer discovers, develops, manufactures and distributes medications. We also hold ourselves accountable for how we help make our medications available to people in need whether the situation stems from a colossal disaster like the tsunami or the hurricanes, financial hardship or pandemic disease. In fact, Hank McKinnell has said that we would measure Pfizer's progress by three key standards, one of those being corporate social responsibility.

Last year alone, two million people just in the U.S. received Pfizer medications through patient assistance programs. Many more have been helped through our international programs. Our responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the tsunami, were just natural extensions of how we strive to conduct business responsibly on a daily basis. Our reason for being is to improve the quality of life for people around the world, and our philosophy is consistent with society's expectations of business today.

Editor: Why was it important for the business community to channel contributions to relief organizations, Governments and NGOs?

Kindler: Pfizer has always believed the most effective way to deliver aid is through partnerships with organizations that have experience and history in providing care to underserved patients. We believe relief organizations, governments and NGOs have proven capacity to deliver both funds and medications quickly and efficiently to the people who need them most.

Editor: Has Pfizer encouraged others to assist in the relief efforts to victims of Katrina and Rita?

Kindler: The response to the devastation of Katrina and Rita was immediate and impressive whether it was from individuals opening their homes to evacuees, companies donating resources, or a National Guardsman rescuing a family pet. Americans from every sector of society offered assistance without any encouragement, and Pfizer colleagues and retirees were no exception.

Donations from Pfizer colleagues in the U.S. are eligible for matching funds from the Pfizer Foundation. As it had in response to the tsunami, after Hurricane Katrina the Pfizer Foundation expedited the employee donation process so that colleagues could quickly direct donations to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and United Way's Hurricane Katrina Victims Fund and be matched by the Pfizer Foundation. I am proud of the response of Pfizer employees and retirees who, to date, have contributed over $1 million towards the hurricane relief effort, going to assist victims of both hurricanes. Those dollars, matched by the Pfizer Foundation, now exceed $2 million. On top of this, financial support was received from several Pfizer international locations including Canada, Hong Kong and Japan.

Another small example of how we have been able to help was reaching out to one of our outside counsel, Covington & Burling, to assist a Tennessee legal services provider with evacuees' FEMA claims and other legal needs.