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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 9 months ago

Island of Hope

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Instead of retreating to the mainland, Jim and Liana O'Drobinak stayed in Puerto Rico to face Hurricane Maria. Now they're helping rebuild the island — and the spirits of its people — in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in late September, Jim and Liana O'Drobinak could have fled the island and escaped the storm's effects.

The couple maintain a residence in Tampa, despite moving to San Juan six years ago so Jim could take a job as CEO of Medical Card System Inc., one of the territory's leading health insurance companies. A graduate of the University of South Florida, Jim O'Drobinak had been a senior manager of Deloitte & Touche's Tampa office and COO of St. Petersburg-based Universal Health Care, among other executive positions, before MCS.

But instead of catching a flight to Florida, the couple remained in Puerto Rico.

“When Maria hit,” recalls Jim O'Drobinak, 56, “we stayed at a friend's house, but we couldn't get out of their neighborhood for two days because all of the trees were knocked down. And the power was down everywhere, I mean, 100% everywhere — nobody had power. And in those early days, very few people had generators.”

O'Drobinak met with the MCS management team Sept. 23. The team decided the company, which employs some 1,400 people and handles Medicare, life and health insurance for clients, would reopen in two days — but as a shelter. They set up a day care facility, arranged for restaurants to serve food and welcomed more than 1,000 residents in need of a place to stay. That continued for a couple of weeks.

There were also MCS hourly employees who were unable to perform their job functions, such as call-center staff, due to the island's extensive infrastructure damage. O'Drobinak asked them to volunteer their time with relief agencies — and continued to pay them if they did so.

Many of the other employees who did show up “were doing just a modicum of work,” O'Drobinak says, “but we said, 'Listen, we have air conditioning. We have a place you can feel safe and feel comfortable.'”

At times, however, even the air conditioning failed because diesel needed to supply the large generators struggled to reach the island. Electricity was also intermittent.

To help overcome those issues and other challenges, the O'Drobinaks set up a fundraising campaign in conjunction with the MCS Foundation, the charitable arm of the company. The goal: If the community could raise $500,000, the foundation, which has donated about $4 million to various causes in the past seven years, would match it.

Dubbed the Green For Puerto Rico campaign, the initiative has been a success. Not only did the MCS Foundation achieve its $1 million goal, but one of its partners in the effort, YMCA of the USA, raised an additional $250,000 that will be matched by MCS. That brings the total to $1.5 million. A portion of the funds raised will go toward restoring and improving YMCA programs in Puerto Rico that benefit children and families.

Another result of the Green for Puerto Rico campaign is the establishment of an islandwide network of laundry facilities. That stems from a partnership between the MCS Foundation and Acción Social de Puerto Rico, a nonprofit that serves the island's economically disadvantaged individuals and families. MCS donated 30 washing machines and 30 generators to power the machines, which have been distributed to Acción Social's 24 service centers across the territory.

Liana O'Drobinak says more than 10,000 people will be able to enjoy clean clothing and bedding — basic comforts that have been shockingly difficult to come by amid the post-Maria havoc and upheaval.

Company:
Medical Card System; CEO Jim O'Drobinak
Organization: Puerto Rico
Giveback: The company's charitable arm has raised $1.5 million for Hurricane Maria relief.
Mission: To help restore basic functions and a sense of normalcy to Puerto Rico.

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