AFT Healthcare Workers Head to Haiti To Provide Help

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A dozen 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, left for Haiti on Jan. 20 to provide much-needed medical assistance for the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake. Members of the medical team work at Fletcher Allen Health Care, an alliance of the University of Vermont's medical and nursing schools.

"When healthcare providers hear the desperate call for help, our first impulse is not even to ask 'How can we help?' but to take action," says Mari Cordes, RN, one of the coordinators of the trip. "We are fortunate in this country to have an incredible wealth of resources, and workers with significant experience. How could we not go?"

Haiti volunteers from VFNHP
Read about the VFNHP volunteers' experiences.

Jennifer Henry, VFNHP president, says the union moved as quickly as possible to try to get a team on the ground in Haiti. "Our hearts go out to the victims of this earthquake, and we are now prepared to put our skills to good use to help Haiti and its citizens mend, move forward and ultimately heal from this tragedy," she says.

In addition to the Vermont contingent, nurse Jessica Patti from Lawrence & Memorial Hospital Registered Professional Nurses, AFT Local 5049 in Connecticut—and retired nurse Mary Vendetto from the local—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 New London Day has more details about the Connecticut nurses.

Says AFT president Randi Weingarten, "We have all been touched by this tragedy, and the generous and heartfelt response from our members—from healthcare professionals to educators—has been overwhelming. We are proud of these workers from Vermont and the many others across the country who have stepped up to the plate to contribute in any way they can."

More than 75 members of the VFNHP have volunteered to be part of the medical relief effort in Haiti. Plans are to dispatch multiple groups—possibly multiple times—over the course of the next few months, Henry says. The first group will land in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and will help staff a hospital in Jimina, Dominican Republic. The volunteers—who are using their own vacation leave time—will use their luggage quota on the flight to take medical supplies.

In addition to Cordes, the other volunteers going to Haiti are: Brian Gacioch, a paramedic and one of the trip coordinators; Susana Knoop, RN; Sarah Harwood, RN; Melinda Pariser, LPN; Jacqueline Schlein, RN; Brian Cunningham, EMT; Joan Carson, RN; and Robert Stafford, a respiratory therapist. Dr. William Charash, the chief of trauma surgery at Fletcher Allen Health Care; Dr. David Greenhouse; and Dr. Jeremiah Goyette-Stevens are also part of the group. Raoul Altidor, an AFT national representative and a native of Haiti, will also be traveling with the group.

The AFT also continues to encourage members to donate to the American Red Cross, the United Way Worldwide Disaster Fund or Save the Children. (See details at right.)

January 20, 2010