Dr. Anastasia “Staci” M. Benson ’05
On August 29, 2017, just days after Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, Staci Benson ’05 was tagged in a Facebook post announcing that there weren’t any medications or medical supplies for the thousands of people sheltering at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Benson, the owner of Paradigm Family Health in Dallas, was ready to answer the call—even though she was four months pregnant and had opened her practice only eight months prior.
Benson was the ideal person to take on the effort. As a direct primary care physician, she charges a flat monthly fee for full access to her medical services—an innovative, cost-saving approach to healthcare that fewer than 800 doctors across the nation provide. So getting urgently needed medical supplies to Houston in the aftermath of the storm was something Benson was equipped to coordinate. “Initially,” she says, “the plan was that we were going to raise a small amount of money, buy the requested items, [and] overnight them to Dallas, and I’d drive them to the airport. Then, a doc in Houston would meet the plane and deliver them to the center.” Within an hour of starting to make phone calls, she was talking to a volunteer pharmacist who had emptied the walls of his Houston-suburb pharmacy and was working with volunteer doctors to help distribute medications and supplies. Within five days, Benson had helped raised $30,000.
The need for supplies to treat injuries extended from Houston and Beaumont to Port Aransas and Corpus Christi, and Benson was hearing about doctors whose clinics had been destroyed and dentists who were suturing patients’ wounds in the field. County health departments and Army captains began to contact her, asking for help, so she emptied her clinic’s drawers to send as much as she could to meet their needs. She was also buying medical supplies with the money she was raising.
As Hurricane Irma approached, Benson teamed up with other medical professionals to create the Physician Relief Network and Medical Disaster Response Network on Facebook. She also began working with colleagues in Florida to help construct and supply an emergency clinic in the Keys. As a third major storm, Hurricane Maria, approached, Benson and other volunteers across the region coordinated their efforts, contacting government officials, medical-school administrators, and the American Academy of Family Physicians chapter in Puerto Rico. She collaborated with a group of doctors in Miami and Puerto Rico who had formed a Facebook group called Doctoras Boricuas (Women Doctors of Puerto Rico), which created a network that raised money and purchased medical supplies valued at $10,000 wholesale (approximately $1,000,000 in retail value) to support hospitals and clinics that were forced to shut down because of damage to the their facilities or supply shortages.
From her home base in Dallas, Benson helped coordinate flights delivering medical supplies to Puerto Rico from Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Volunteers at shipping centers helped transport items via truck across the country and donated warehouse storage while a communications team coordinated PR to help get needed items to rural areas. “The most important thing to stress,” she says modestly, “was this was a massive team effort with many grassroots organizations working together to utilize resources to help people in need. This was by no means a one-woman show, and I was just a piece of the puzzle helping with organization [and] logistics.”
For those three exhausting months during and after the hurricanes, the lives of Benson and her fellow volunteers were consumed by making phone calls, writing texts, interviewing with major news outlets, placing orders, reviewing supply needs, restocking inventories, and connecting people to resources. The support network these professionals created continues to thrive today, contributing to relief efforts during the California wildfires and the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Fuego in Guatemala.
In recognition of the global impact of her actions and her contributions to the well-being of humanity, the Southwestern University Alumni Association proudly presents Dr. Anastasia “Staci” M. Benson with the 2018 Distinguished Humanitarian Award.