Vermont Health Professionals Establishing Clinic in Haiti

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What began as an effort by members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals to help the Haitian community after it was devastated by an earthquake has evolved into a long-term commitment to contribute to Haiti's healthcare needs.

"From the beginning, when the AFT provided the support our local needed to send weekly medical relief teams immediately after the earthquake, our group agreed that our mission must include a long-term vision of capacity building," says nurse and VFNHP member Mari Cordes. "We are in it for the long haul."

Haiti clinic assessment

VFNHP president Jennifer Henry, left, meets with nurses from the state university hospital of Haiti to discuss establishing a clinic in Port-au-Prince.

Cordes and VFNHP president Jennifer Henry recently traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to assess the healthcare needs of the community and scout locations for a union-run health clinic. They were accompanied by members of the global union federation, Public Services International, and its affiliate in Haiti, the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers, which also are involved in establishing the clinic.

Cordes is president of the Vermont Medical Response Team, an organization established by medical relief volunteers and the union to coordinate relief efforts. In the last seven months, more than 110 nurses, doctors, paramedics, respiratory therapists, emergency medical technicians and other volunteers have traveled to Haiti with the team to provide medical assistance in the aftermath the earthquake that hit the country in January. (See earlier story.) Recently, the organization received a $50,000 grant from the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center to help with the creation of the clinic, aptly named the Workers Solidarity Clinic.

"The Solidarity Center grant will be instrumental in providing the infrastructure necessary for the clinic," Cordes says, "from the actual building and utility work to establishing training programs for Haitian healthcare workers." The initial focus of the clinic will be on maternal and infant care, including immunizations, with the provision of primary care to follow.

"Our members responded to the desperate calls for help immediately after the earthquake," says Henry. "Now we want to continue to assist with Haiti's healthcare needs as the nation moves forward from this tragedy."

The devastating earthquake in Haiti brought an immediate response from AFT members most able to and inclined to help: healthcare workers. Affiliates from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Vermont were among those that quickly answered the call.

Five psychiatric nurses from Rockland Psychiatric Center in Rockland County, N.Y., who traveled to Haiti to volunteer, were recently recognized by the AFT for their efforts. The nurses, all members of the New York State Public Employees Federation, were among the “Everyday Heroes” honored at the AFT convention in July in Seattle.

Immediately following earthquake, the AFT contributed $10,000 each to Education International, Public Services International and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity better known as the Solidarity Center. In addition, earlier this year, the New York State United Teachers presented the VFNHP with a $10,000 donation from the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund. The United Federation of Teachers has also collected donations for Haiti through its Disaster Relief Fund.

[Adrienne Coles, AFT press release, photo courtesy of Mari Cordes]

August 5, 2010