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Miller School’s 240-Bed Tent Hospital Readies to Open Amid More Aftershocks in a Ravished Haiti

1/20/2010

Unaffected by the 6.1-magnitude aftershock that terrorized Haiti anew this morning, UM’s facilities crew raced to complete the Miller School’s 240-bed hospital so desperately needed to care for the wounded in the shattered capital.

With four hospital tents erected, workers were busy setting up communications and installing floors and an air-conditioning system that will bring a small measure of comfort to the patients, physicians, nurses, and other volunteers who are enduring endless hardships as the impoverished nation struggles to recover.

Back at the Miller School’s Haiti Task Force Command Center, staff and volunteers continued their Herculean efforts to collect supplies and schedule flights to move more critical caregivers and equipment, including desperately needed oxygen tanks, to the growing UM encampment at the Port-au-Prince airport.

“The number of hours you’re putting in is beyond comprehension,’’ Steven Falcone, M.D., executive clinical dean for the Miller School’s regional campus at Florida Atlantic University, told task force members at their morning briefing.

Falcone knows about long hours. He is acting as chief medical officer for the Miller School’s medical mission for survivors of the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake that left hundreds of thousand dead or injured and homeless.

With assistance from the United Nations and the U.S. Army, critically wounded patients were to begin arriving Thursday at the new temporary hospital, housed in four basketball court-sized tents arranged by retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and Stuart Miller, of the Miller School family.

In addition to operating rooms, 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, Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt noted at a news briefing earlier this week.

He credited Barth Green's longstanding involvement with UM health care projects in Haiti for enabling the University to accomplish so much under such difficult circumstances, including the establishment of an urgent care center that treated and triaged more than 250 quake survivors in its first 48 hours of operation.

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 51 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 so far has received more than 900 e-mails 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."

As the Miller School expands its medical mission in Haiti, the need for translators, anesthesiologists, surgeons, critical care nurses, surgical nurses and specialists in infectious disease, and family and internal medicine remains. If you are willing and able to assist in Haiti, please send an email to haitivolunteers@med.miami.edu. Include your name, contact information, including all phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and list your availability, language fluency, skills, specialties, title, affiliation with UM, or an external organization, and your country of citizenship, with your passport number and expiration date.  

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.