01/25/2010

AFT Healthcare Workers Head to Haiti To Provide Help

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Jan. 25 | Jan. 26 | Feb. 1 | Feb. 25

A team of nurses, paramedics and EMTs who are members of the AFT-affiliated Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (VFNHP), as well as doctors and an AFT national representative, are providing much-needed medical assistance for the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. (See related story.)

In addition to the Vermont contingent, nurse Jessica Patti and retired nurse Mary Vendetto, both from Lawrence & Memorial Hospital Registered Professional Nurses, AFT Local 5049, in Connecticut, have been in Haiti providing medical care to earthquake victims since Jan. 17. Additional nurses from the local also are slated to go as part of a group called Raising Haiti.

The Vermont team has been working out of a medical compound in Jimani, Dominican Republic, since Jan. 21. The compound, which is on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, was built 12 years ago and is run by Americans. The hospital staff is overwhelmed with the injured and ill in search of care.

The team is working the night shift assisting in the care of over 400 patients—many of them infants and children. “Most of the patients have crush injuries and amputations,” says RN Mari Cordes, who is a member of the VFNHP and one of the coordinators of the trip.

The scene at Jimani is one of organized chaos, say team members. The buildings are in excellent condition, and the team has access to plenty of medications, IV fluids and supplies, but there are very few nurses and other healthcare workers to provide care. Food and water are available, and the sleeping quarters are crowded but safe.

“The hospital staff is desperate for nurses, and they and the other volunteers are very grateful that our team is with them in Jimani,” says Cordes.

On their first day in Jimani, the team created a wound-care center. They also helped to create a more orderly process in the pre- and post-surgical care areas by ensuring that patients had a translator to help the surgeon explain procedures to them before they were performed—something that was not happening regularly in post-earthquake care in Haiti.

The team also made sure that patients received pain medication and care regularly. In other areas, due to lack of supplies and medical care, surgeries are being done with minimal or no anesthesia, but at this compound, there are enough resources to provide life-saving care and pain management.

Paramedics Jeremiah Goyette and Brian Gacioch, and EMT Brian Cunningham have been working with RNs—Joan Carson, Sarah Harwood, Susana Knoop, Mari Cordes, and Jackie Schlein—to provide care to patients who are crowded into hospital units or outside, under tents.

“We are in good spirits. We are safe. We are so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing team here,” says Cordes. “But by far, the Haitian people are the most amazing of all. They model for us over and over incredible perseverance and hope. They are so patient with each other and us. They are often singing. The children are so beautiful. It is painful to see their suffering.” [Adrienne Coles]

January 25, 2010

Read Jan. 26, 2010 dispatch.