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Miller School Volunteers Will Continue Their Life-Saving Mission in a New Tent Hospital Rising from the Wreckage

1/19/2010

Just a week after arriving in the demolished Haitian capital, the Miller School is ready to open a temporary 240-plus bed hospital at the edge of the international airport, expanding the urgent care center the University established a day after the Jan. 12 earthquake left hundreds of thousands injured and the impoverished nation in ruins.

"From an urgent care center, we are evolving towards a full-scale, urgent care hospital," Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., said at a morning news conference on the University's ongoing efforts to help survivors.

"Thanks to Barth Green, and support from people like (former Miami Heat star) Alonzo Mourning and Stuart Miller – from the Miller School of Medicine family – we were able to build a four-tent compound, with each tent being about the size of a basketball court."

In addition to surgical areas, the hospital will have telemedicine conferencing abilities, allowing UM physicians to examine and consult on patients hundreds of miles away. The tent compound also will have X-ray and dialysis machines, equipment currently unavailable in Port-au-Prince, the Dean noted.

He credited Green's longstanding involvement with UM health care projects in Haiti for enabling the University to accomplish so much under such difficult circumstances.

Green, professor and chair of neurological surgery, co-founded Project Medishare with Arthur Fournier, M.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for community health affairs, after a medical mission to Haiti in 1994. Until last week's disaster, he had been working towards building a critical care hospital in Haiti. Now, his focus is on a country in urgent need of virtually everything.

"When we got there, there were no hospitals and really no doctors," said Green, who flew back to Miami early Tuesday with four of the 48 earthquake survivors who have been treated at UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center so far. "Hundreds of thousands of people were dead and trapped and screaming and moaning. It was quite overwhelming. We called for help and Dean Goldschmidt mobilized the medical school and we've had hundreds of volunteers, doctors and nurses."

Indeed, the Global Institute for Community Health and Development has so far received nearly 800 emails from both external and internal volunteers willing to assist UM in Haiti. Matching their skills with the needs in Haiti and then getting them on site is a painstaking process, but one thing is certain: Their help will be needed for a long time.

"This nation is totally, totally devastated," observed Green, who said he and fellow physicians are often reduced to tears by what they see and hear. "There's no real infrastructure left, there's no communications."

Returning from the ravished country Monday evening, Dean Goldschmidt expressed his gratitude for the selfless teamwork that enabled members of the UM team to treat and triage more than 250 patients during their first 48 hours on the ground.

"I am amazed that the ship brought to Port-au-Prince by the U.S. government is designed to admit 250 patients," the Dean said. "Well, we had 250 patients admitted to our urgent care center. We're doing life-saving surgeries, delivering medications, eliminating pain and suffering, providing antibiotics – all of that with no pretension. There was no hierarchy. Everybody was working together as a team doing whatever needed to be done."

The Dean was equally impressed by the resolve and courage of the Haitian people as they mourn their dead, tend to the living, sift through the rubble and scramble for food, water, shelter and other basic essentials and services.

"You feel guilty to come back to the most amazing country in the world – the United States," the Dean said. "But the people of Haiti are stoic. They are respectful of what we were doing and grateful. They are just so happy we were bringing this opportunity for health and hope for survival. People talk about unrest, but that is the exception not the rule."

As the Miller School expands its commitment to Haiti's recovery, the need for translators, anesthesiologists, surgeons, critical care nurses, surgical nurses and specialists in infectious disease, and family and internal medicine remains. Anyone willing and able to go to Haiti to assist, should confer with their supervisor and add their name to the volunteer list by emailing Paulette Richards of the Global Institute at prichards@med.miami.edu. Include your name, contact information, skills, language abilities, and the length of time you can volunteer.

To support the Global Institute's health care mission in Haiti you may give to the United Way/UM through "Operation Helping Hands," make an online donation directly to the Global Institute or send a check made out to the "University of Miami-Global Institute" to P.O. Box 248073, Coral Gables, Florida, 33124.