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Volunteers Begin Five-Day Deployments as Some Routine Takes Shape at the University’s Hospital in Haiti

1/27/2010

Haiti Photos

The first planeload of volunteers to deploy for five days was scheduled to arrive at the Miller School’s hospital in Haiti this evening, bringing the skills and energy of more nurses, orthopaedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, physical therapists and a desperately needed psychiatrist to the ever-expanding mission to aid earthquake survivors.

Among the things volunteers from the University of Miami family and beyond will find are growing signs of the order and routine being imposed, slowly but surely, on the chaos that accompanies all large-scale disasters.

For example, doctors, nurses, patients, their families and other volunteers at the University’s hospital at the Port-au-Prince airport are now receiving three hot meals a day, thanks to local vendors who deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to the camp.

That’s a noticeable improvement over the power bars, peanut butter and crackers the first waves of volunteers subsisted on. Still, Rafael Campo, M.D., medical director of employee health and infection control, is urging UM volunteers to choose the military’s MREs, or Meals-Ready-to Eat, over local food to avoid intestinal problems.

To assure continuity of care in Haiti, the UM Global Institute’s Haiti Relief Task Force is now asking volunteers to serve at least five days. By mid-February, volunteers may be asked to stay at least a week.

The longer deployments come as the task force, the tireless cadre of doctors, administrators, staff and volunteers who are working non-stop to coordinate the massive medical mission, settle in for the long haul. On Wednesday, the task force was operating with a new office manager and additional temporary staff from its new quarters at the Medical Training and Simulation Lab.

Though University of Miami/Jackson physicians, nurses and other personnel have helped save hundreds of lives since Barth Green, M.D., professor and chair of neurological surgery, led the first medical team to the devastated capital a day after the January 12 quake, tens of thousands of survivors still need immediate and long-term care. Also hovering on the horizon: the threat of epidemics from unsanitary conditions and a growing need for psychiatric and counseling services for traumatized survivors and volunteers alike.

Earlier this week, Dr. Green ticked off an ever-growing list of needs at the urgent care hospital the university opened last week.  Among them: a multi-slice CT scanner, dialysis units, and crutches and prosthetics for the countless Haitians whose limbs were crushed by collapsing buildings and have endured or will undergo amputations.

“Children and adults are dying every day because there are no dialysis machines in Haiti,’’ said Green, who co-founded Project Medishare to improve health care access in Haiti after a medical mission to the impoverished country in 1994. “In Haiti, if you can’t walk, you can’t get anywhere.’’

He also said the University is helping set up interim camps for hundreds of post-op patients no longer requiring acute care. Even if they are stable enough to be released, many have nowhere to go, nor any idea if their families are still alive, complicating the many challenges at the hospital.

Likewise, the University is working with Haitian orphanages to place post-op children without known family and is enlisting U.S. hospitals outside Florida, which has received the lion’s share of survivors brought to the U.S., to accept spinal cord and burn patients.

“The hospitals are willing to take them,’’ Dr. Green said. “We just need ways to fly them directly.’’

While some of the Miller School’s orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons have been dispatched to the U.S. Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, to treat trauma patients there, the University has few nurses to spare, especially Creole-speakers able to communicate with frightened Haitian patients.

To ease the burden, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order on Monday 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 South Florida hospitals accommodate the many Haitian nurses on staff 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.

In addition to health care professionals, especially Creole-speaking nurses, 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.

If you are willing and able to assist in Haiti and have not yet submitted your volunteer contact information, please fill out the volunteer sign-up form.  If you already have submitted your volunteer contact information, there is no need to take further action. All perspective volunteers also should review the CDC's Guidance for Relief Workers and Others Traveling to Haiti for Earthquake Response.