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Seattle Startup Supports Fishermen during COVID-19

August 12, 2020

Washington Maritime Blue, the Port of Seattle, and WeWork Labs have partnered to launch Washington’s first maritime accelerator to help maritime companies innovate and grow. New ideas in one of the most traditional sectors in Washington are critical for a thriving economy and to protect our planet, precious natural resources, and ocean life. 

This series showcases the 11 companies participating in the inaugural cohort. These companies worked for four months out of WeWork Labs’ Seattle location with mentors and advisers to help navigate challenges. In April, the startups shared their innovative solutions in a Virtual Showcase

When COVID-19 first surfaced in China and began its spread across the world, it didn’t take long to reach the maritime industry. Mariners faced the unique challenge of trying to control the spread of an illness in a contained space and receive medical treatment in that same space. Discovery Health MD, which provides medical services for commercial maritime industry in locations around the world, immediately started working on a solution.

“I had cargo and petroleum clients who were calling on Chinese ports asking us for help,” said Dr. Ann Jarris, cofounder and CEO of the Seattle-based company. “It was difficult when we couldn’t get people off their ships in ports to receive foreign medical care.”

When COVID-19 cases were discovered in the Pacific Northwest, Jarris’ team ramped up their response and tripled their workforce.  They put together a plan for COVID-19 frontline testing and developed risk reduction strategies for the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, assisting in quarantine procedures and planning for a safe workforce. Discovery Health MD administered COVID-19 tests to over 5,000 fishers before the current commercial fishing season.

COVID 19 testing at Fishermen's Terminal
Photo credit: Russ Read Photography

“With our deep involvement with the fishing industry, the Port, and University of Washington, we were able to come up with the first fitness for duty assessment for mariners involving testing and quarantine. This is now the model for the rest of world. Because of this model, the North Pacific Fishing Fleet is successfully fishing right now,” Jarris said.

Discovery Health MD offers a comprehensive suite of services to help protect the health and livelihoods of mariners — while mitigating financial risk for companies. Highly experienced physicians who specialize in maritime, emergency, and travel medicine are just a phone call away. Discovery Health MD staff offer clinical and operations expertise, and have a deep understanding of the medical, regulatory and legal issues affecting the commercial maritime industry.

“The medicine in all of this is very easy; it is the logistics that gets complicated,” Jarris said.

 A unique skillset

Jarris, an emergency medicine physician, co-founded Discovery Health MD in 2016 with her late husband, Dr. Ray Jarris, to fill a unique niche that utilized their collective experience in occupational, emergency, wilderness, virtual, maritime, and remote site medicine. 

Dr. Ray Jarris, the former head of the Emergency Room at Swedish Ballard, had a long history of working with the maritime industry and had formed connections with those who knew and trusted his talent. Early on, he scribbled his grand vision for Discovery Health MD on the back of a napkin, which would later represent how far the company has come. When he passed away in 2018, he had passed on his crystal-clear vision of the company and deep knowledge of the processes that held the company together. The following months were a tenuous time at Discovery Health MD, but with her team, Ann successfully steered the company back on track and focused on the initial vision. Later she took a look at the napkin that started it all.

“I was surprised to find we did it; we did everything we wanted to,” she said. “Even after my husband passed away, we managed to survive. It forced me to learn everything on my own; it was sink or swim. I’m grateful to the clients who stood by us, who knew Ray and loved Ray.”

Discovery Health MD

Maritime Blue Accelerator Program

After Ann saw that her team had realized Ray’s vision for Discovery Health MD, she thought “What now?”

Discovery Health MD had experienced rapid growth since it began in 2016, doubling in 2018 and again in 2019.

“I didn’t know what the next growth plan was. I didn’t know where to focus energies to scale or build a network in maritime industry. I didn’t have connections within the governance, political, or regulatory world. I needed to step back and evaluate what the next move was.”

The need to make new connections and determine a growth strategy prompted Ann to apply for the Maritime Blue Accelerator program.

“I loved that we worked so closely with other companies in the Accelerator. We didn’t focus on each company individually; we all worked together to understand what our different needs were and how we each interacted with industry. The Accelerator was able to bring people from different parts of industry together to collaborate.

These connections proved even more valuable as Discovery Health MD pivoted to develop a plan for COVID-19.

“The contacts I made through the Accelerator program were instrumental in being able to develop our plan for COVID-19 testing. Through connections and networking in the Accelerator we were able to collaborate with Washington state and the Department of Health.”

Discovery Health MD’s plan had been to double their business again in 2020, but then COVID-19 hit. Within a few months, they had tripled their business.

COVID-19 testing at Fishermen's Terminal
Photo Credit: Russ Read Photography

Next steps

With the future impacts of COVID-19 still unclear, Discovery Health MD staff is looking ahead to the start of the next commercial fishing season and additional measures to improve healthcare at sea.

“We’re looking at how do we improve communication between physicians and on-board medical representatives; we are continuing to look at our long-term plan, and the technical innovations and considerations we can put in place,” Jarris said.

Jarris continues to evolve their processes to meet the needs of clients.

“In working with the maritime industry, the lack of standardization can be a challenge,” she said. “There’s nothing homogenous about this industry at all. Each client requires customization and has a different corporate culture to work with. There are huge variations in how people work.”

Read more about other Maritime Accelerator startups:

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