Price alum leads medical response team to treat Nepal quake victims

June 17, 2015

By Matthew Kredell

Tim Collins in one of Nepal's mountainous villages where he deployed (Photo by Scripps Health)

Tim Collins in one of Nepal’s mountainous villages where he deployed (Photo by Scripps Health)

In May, USC Price school of Public Policy alumnus Tim Collins led a Scripps Health medical response team to Nepal, where in a span of three weeks they treated close to 2,200 people who had been injured during the recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the country and were in dire need of health care services.

Collins MHA ’05 – who serves as Corporate Vice President of Operations at Scripps Health, a San Diego-based health care system – coordinated the delivery of aid to communities that hadn’t previously received outside assistance. Working with partners from International Medical Corp and Massachusetts General Hospital, the five-person Scripps Health team set up temporary clinics in seven remote, mountainous villages, many of which were accessible only by helicopter.

“For me, it was an opportunity to help people in need and also to bring lessons learned from the tragedy back to San Diego and the community so that we can be prepared for an earthquake,” said Collins, who volunteered for the assignment.

Collins served in an administrative role, doing reconnaissance to set up clinics, coordinating care, identifying sources of water, addressing safety concerns and putting people in the right place. He also used his EMT background in a supportive role by cleaning wounds and checking vitals.

Emotional experience

Collins, center, assists with helping a Nepalese man who suffered a spinal injury. The team carried him up a hill to be airlifted to a regional hospital. (Photo by International Medical Corps)

Collins, center, assists with helping a Nepalese man who suffered a spinal injury. The team carried him up a hill to be airlifted to a regional hospital. (Photo by International Medical Corps)

His most memorable experience occurred during the first few days of the trip in the village of Laprok. The village was located hours from the nearest road and most of the ways in to the village had been cut off from the world since the earthquake. Community members told of a man who was critically injured and unable to move for more than a week since his house collapsed.

Collins and a physician from International Medical Corp (IMC) ran down a steep 45-degree slope for close to an hour to reach the man, who had suffered a spinal injury. A team that included residents from the community took turns carrying him on their backs up 1,000 feet before finding a gurney. After securing him to the gurney, the team then carried the patient another thousand feet to reach an area suitable for a helicopter to land and pick him up.

“It was an emotional start to the trip that pushed the limits of what we thought we were capable of in order to save the life of a patient who needed our help,” Collins said.

On May 12, Collins and his team were packing up their tents outside a monastery when a powerful 7.3 earthquake struck the region.

“It started with a slow easy roll and ramped up to a heavy roll, unlike the earthquakes we have in Southern California that are more jarring,” Collins said. “We made sure to locate ourselves in a safe position away from buildings and on stable land. There were houses all around us, and the response of the community with people screaming and running out of their homes is something I will never forget.”

Fostering global compassion

Collins (second from left) with Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder (third from left), the rest of the Nepal mission team and several members of Scripps' leadership at the San Diego International Airport, after the team arrived back home (Photo by Scripps Health)

Collins (second from left) with Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder (third from left), the rest of the Nepal mission team and several members of Scripps’ leadership at the San Diego International Airport, after the team arrived back home (Photo by Scripps Health)

Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder, who received an MPA with a focus in healthcare from USC Price in 1986, created the emphasis for global compassion at the company. Scripps has sent previous medical teams on missions to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“It really begins with Chris, another one of our grads,” said Robert Myrtle, Professor Emeritus at USC Price, who taught Collins in the MHA program and continues to serve as a mentor. “He just believes in making contributions to disaster relief. For Tim to take three weeks away from his family to go to Nepal for Scripps and help people get through the devastation in Nepal is a marvelous story. I think it is part of the fabric of our school for graduates to find ways to help in the community.”

At USC Price, Collins said he learned the value of working with other groups for a common purpose and he applied the skill to maximize the impact a five-person team could have in Nepal.

“There were a lot of organizations trying to help out in Nepal, and the ones that could tap into the strengths and capabilities of others truly excelled,” Collins said. “At the Price School, with all the different programs and tracks, there was a focus on collaboration and how we should – and need to – come together to act as one team.”

According to Collins, it was also important for him to set an example for his three children – Makenna, 11, Zachary, 14, and Meghan, 16 – with wife Melissa.

“I came back with pictures to show them how lucky we are and how we can give back to others,” he said. “My daughter Makenna and I created a slide show together. It was a great way to share my experience in Nepal with her.”