08/19/2011

Union-Run Health Clinic in Haiti Open for Business

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Union-Run Health Clinic in Haiti Open for Business. Photo by Kyle Ferdinand.

On Aug. 15, the Workers Solidarity Clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, opened its doors for the first time. The vision for a union-run clinic emerged nearly 18 months ago when members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals traveled to Haiti immediately after a devastating earthquake.

In its opening days, more than 130 women and children were seen at the clinic. "We had a very successful first week," says Mari Cordes, VFNHP president and one of five VFHNP members who went to Haiti to help with the opening. She was joined by several Haitian nurses and a doctor.

The clinic was the result of a long-term commitment the VFHNP had made to Haiti. In the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the country in January 2010, hundreds of nurses, doctors, paramedics, respiratory therapists, emergency medical technicians and other volunteers have gone to Haiti with the Vermont Medical Response Team to provide medical assistance.

Deborah Wachtel, a nurse practitioner and a VFNHP member, is one of those volunteers. She returned to Haiti along with Cordes, but this visit was much different from her first. "We were in crisis mode then," she recalls. "It was very emotionally draining. But what I see now is incredibly empowering. I wanted to be part of a Haiti that is moving on, regrouping, regaining health" and in which people are now "leading normal lives."

The VFNHP has shepherded the project with the help of Public Services International (PSI) and its affiliate in Haiti, the Confederation of Workers in the Public and Private Sectors, a Haitian trade union federation also known as the CTSP. In addition, funds from the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, the New York State United Teachers and the AFT, as well as individual donations, have helped finance the clinic. The actual dome structure was donated by Eric Klein and the charitable organization Can-Do.Org. The volunteers who have visited Haiti also provide support by paying their own airfare and expenses.

The clinic is expected to be open one week each month and will concentrate on immunization, mother/child care and preventive health. CTSP members will be trained to serve as medical assistants.

In the meantime, VFNHP expects to send teams of five to seven people from Vermont and other states to work in the clinic. "We know that things in Haiti will not change overnight," says Cordes, "but we are happy with the initial outcome."

She is hoping that a broader vision willcome to pass in the future: the establishment of other clinics in Haiti. [Adrienne Coles/Kyle Ferdinand photo]

August 19, 2011