‘Just over­whelm­ing’

Try­ing to get help to Haiti proves daunt­ing task

Modern Healthcare - - Cover Story - Shawn Rhea

US. hos­pi­tals and health­care sys­tems late last week were scram­bling to get much-needed med­i­cal re­sources into Haiti fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake that top­pled many of the coun­try’s struc­tures, dam­aged health­care fa­cil­i­ties and left tens of thou­sands of peo­ple dead and thou­sands more in need of med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Their abil­ity to send help was im­peded by dam­age to Haiti’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, trans­porta­tion ports and other in­fra­struc­ture. “The lo­gis­tics are just over­whelm­ing,” said William Lois, surgery di­rec­tor at 326-bed Kings­brook Jewish Med­i­cal Cen­ter, New York. On Jan. 15, Lois was in the process of or­ga­niz­ing a large con­tin­gent of med­i­cal work­ers to go to Haiti with med­i­cal sup­plies. “There are peo­ple trapped in build­ings who are dy­ing or will die from in­fec­tion. Right now what we need are sur­geons—peo­ple who can su­ture, cut, and clean out eyes.”

Of­fi­cials with sev­eral health­care sys­tems af­fil­i­ated with churches that were al­ready ac­tive in Haiti were on con­fer­ence calls much of the day on Jan. 14 as they worked with their U.S.and Haitian-based part­ners in an at­tempt to sort out how best to get ban­dages, medicine

and cru­cial per­son­nel into the re­gion.

“It’s a fluid sit­u­a­tion as of now,” said Sa­man­tha O’Lenick, spokes­woman for Or­lando-based, 2,204-bed Florida Hospi­tal, a mem­ber of Ad­ven­tist Health Sys­tem Sun­belt Health Care Corp.

The plan, O’Lenick said, in­cludes work­ing with the Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist-af­fil­i­ated Ho­pi­tal Ad­ven­tiste d’Haiti in Port-au-Prince, to de­ter­mine what med­i­cal per­son­nel and sup­plies are most needed. The hospi­tal, ac­cord­ing to a note on the Ad­ven­tist Health In­ter­na­tional Web site, was still stand­ing and op­er­a­ble af­ter the 7.0-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that left much of the city in ru­ins.

Jack­son Health Sys­tem, Mi­ami, was among the first U.S. hos­pi­tals to send physi­cians into Haiti, and the 1,858-bed fa­cil­ity was also treat­ing Haiti res­i­dents trans­ported to the U.S. for care. “They had re­ceived nine pa­tients” as of Wed­nes­day night, said Florida Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman Rick Ras­mussen.

Kings­brook Jewish Med­i­cal Cen­ter, which serves a large Haitian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in New York, was in the throes of or­ga­niz­ing its re­lief ef­fort on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15. Lois, along with at­tend­ing physi­cian Henry Paul, was in the midst of or­ga­niz­ing a bian­nual med­i­cal mis­sion to Haiti when the quake hit, said spokes­woman Enid Dil­lard. “We’re just wait­ing on in­for­ma­tion about mil­i­tary sup­port, be­cause we’ll need that to safely go in,” she said. The 326-bed hospi­tal’s plans were still be­ing de­vel­oped at dead­line, but Lois said he had more than 80 physi­cians and other health­care work­ers who had vol­un­teered to go, and that a con­tin­gent of providers hoped to de­part for Haiti some­time over the week­end. “We’re go­ing to see if we can stag­ger the mis­sion.” Hack­en­sack (N.J.) Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter was also or­ga­niz­ing a del­e­ga­tion. Of­fi­cials for the 679-bed hospi­tal planned to send an emer­gency depart­ment physi­cian and three nurses to work with the not-for-profit med­i­cal mis­sion NOVA Hope for Haiti.

But ham­pered by jammed phone lines, lim­ited In­ter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ac­ces­si­ble air­ports and sea­ports, most providers—even those with con­nec­tions on the ground in Haiti—were still try­ing to as­sess how best to send med­i­cal as­sis­tance to the coun­try. “Our lead­er­ship is still eval­u­at­ing the sit­u­a­tion,” said Abby Lowe, spokes­woman for Chris­tus Health, a Catholic sys­tem based in Irv­ing, Texas. “The info we got from the Catholic Health As­so­ci­a­tion yes­ter­day was that it’s still early and that mov­ing large num­bers of health­care work­ers into Haiti is prob­lem­atic. But we’ve had lots of of­fers from em­ploy­ees to go.”

St. Alphonsus Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, a 398-bed, Catholic-af­fil­i­ated hospi­tal in Boise, Idaho, was poised to send help, but was wait­ing on word from lead­er­ship at St. Damien Hospi­tal, a Tabarre, Haiti-based chil­dren’s hospi­tal spon­sored by St. Alphonsus. St. Damien’s chief ad­min­is­tra­tor and physi­cian, the Rev. Rick Frechette, was in the U.S. when the quake struck, so St. Alphonsus of­fi­cials were un­cer­tain about the ex­tent of the dam­age to the hospi­tal, which is lo­cated right out­side of Port-au-Prince. Frechette was en route to Haiti through the Do­mini­can Repub­lic at dead­line, said Debbie Hamil­ton, co­or­di­na­tor of spe­cial projects for St. Alphonsus. “Right now, we’re try­ing to raise funds to help re­place equip­ment and re­pair the hospi­tal,” she said. “We have doc­tors and nurses on standby in case he says we need a team of doc­tors and nurses.”

Con­cerned that send­ing health­care per­son­nel to Haiti could over­tax a coun­try fac­ing lim­ited re­sources and a scarcity of safe ar­eas for hous­ing peo­ple, a num­ber of U.S. providers were in­stead fo­cused on rais­ing funds to help pay for med­i­cal sup­plies. Sut­ter Health, Sacra­mento, Calif., said on Jan. 15 that it was do­nat­ing $1.25 mil­lion in funds and sup­plies to the re­lief ef­fort. Den­ver-based Catholic Health Ini­tia­tives, Chris­tus Health and San Fran­cisco-based Catholic Health­care West all in­di­cated they would make do­na­tions to Catholic groups al­ready on the ground in Haiti.

A man cries out­side the morgue of the Gen­eral Hospi­tal in Port-au-Prince last week as vic­tims waited for help.

Lois: “Right now what we need are sur­geons.”

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