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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Signs Executive Order to Help South Florida Haitian Nurses Volunteer at the Miller School's New Hospital in Haiti

1/25/2010

Haiti Photos

Hoping to smooth the way for more South Florida nurses, particularly those at the Miller School and Jackson Memorial Hospital, to help earthquake survivors in Haiti, Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Monday signed an executive order allowing licensed nurses from other states to work in Florida for the next three months.

Sought by nursing, hospital and union officials, the temporary measure is designed to help Jackson and other South Florida hospitals accommodate the many Haitian and Creole-speaking nurses who yearn to return to their homeland to render assistance but, due to the ongoing nursing shortage, are unable to obtain leave because their skills are needed here. The out-of-state nurses would temporarily take the place of nurses who want to follow their hearts to Haiti.

"With that kind of plea I don't know how to say no, so what I'm going to do is sign that order and to thank these wonderful people for their… kindness and their willingness to share their talents with our neighbors," Crist said at a Monday afternoon news conference at Jackson's Ryder Trauma Center.

In turn, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D. and Eneida Roldan, M.D., president and CEO of Jackson Health System, thanked the governor for enabling the UM/Jackson team to continue saving lives at a 240-bed hospital the UM Global Institute opened last week.

"It is amazing the amount of work that is going on there," the Dean said. "With your help we can make sure that Miami can continue to help."

Odiane Medacier, a nurse practitioner in anesthesiology and the first vice president of the Haitian American Nurses Association, said the organization already has more than 200 nurses who are ready to go to Haiti.

"We feel it is our obligation and our duty to help our brothers and sisters there," said Medacier, who returned from Haiti last week after helping patients transfer to the new hospital from a makeshift clinic the University established a day after the quake struck.

Located on the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport, the hospital is a vast improvement. Adult and child patients can now rest in separate and more spacious wards, their flimsy cots no longer crammed tight. Two operating rooms boast anesthesia machines and surgical lights.

A pathology lab is opening and, finally, an imaging center is enabling orthopedic surgeons to quit repairing shattered bones with visual inspections and touch alone.

"Now we're going to be able to use more modern medicine," a weary Eduardo de Marchena, M.D., associate dean for international medicine reported last week. "This is the most inspiring effort I've ever participated in. I really don't think there's ever been a university that has put together a working field hospital in an emergency situation like this."

In addition to two operating rooms, which are expected to double the Miller School's surgical capacity to about 50 operations a day, the 25,000-square foot air-conditioned compound includes two carnival-like, white tents to store medical and other supplies, and provide sleeping quarters for the volunteers from the University and beyond who have been toiling around the clock to stabilize and save lives.

But as welcome and impressive as the UM hospital is, it will barely make a dent in the enormous medical needs of a country with hundreds of thousands of dead, gravely wounded and homeless people.

"There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of patients on the ground who will require this level of care and they require it as soon as possible, if not now," de Marchena said. "There will still be many, many more who will die in the next few weeks and this is before we've even started with some of the secondary infections and epidemics we'll see."

Transported by volunteers and Chilean and Argentine U.N. peacekeepers, patients began arriving at the new field hospital on Thursday from the clinic Barth Green, M.D., professor and chairman of neurological surgery, established about a half-mile away after leading the first medical team to the ravished capital a day after the earthquake struck. There, doctors were amputating limbs by flashlight, on slabs of concrete outside.

Along with Arthur Fournier, M.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for community health affairs, Green co-founded Project Medishare 15 years ago to improve health care access in Haiti. Their longstanding commitment and deep ties to the impoverished country facilitated the University's quick and expanding role in the medical relief effort.

But even with the larger, cleaner, better-equipped field hospital, de Marchena noted, many other obstacles remain. Even patients who no longer need acute care present major challenges. Many have nowhere to go and no idea if their families are still alive so the UM clinic was, and the hospital will almost surely become, a de facto refugee center.

Yet, de Marchena said, the rewards of helping people in such desperate need make up for all the hardships, challenges and images of misery that will haunt him for a long time.

"There is such beautiful humanity down there you feel enriched," he said. "You feel like you're a more complete human being for having been there."

In addition to health care professionals who can assist in Haiti, raising money for the UM Global Institute to support the University's doctors, nurses and students in Haiti remains a priority. You may 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.

In addition to nurses, there will be a continuing need for at the UM hospital for translators, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and specialists in infectious disease, internal and family medicine, and translators. 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.