SUNY Downstate Physicians and Nurses Provide Medical Care in Haiti:
Efforts Complement Counseling Outreach to Haitian-American Community in Brooklyn.
In response to the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, SUNY Downstate Medical Center staff members have traveled to Haiti to provide much-needed medical services in the Port-au-Prince area. Eight physicians and nurses from Downstate and Kings County Hospital Center traveled to Haiti on February 14, spending five days assisting in the Emergency Department at Port-au-Prince’s University Hospital.
In the days immediately after the earthquake, SUNY Downstate responded by providing counseling and mental health services to the large Haitian-American population in Brooklyn. Assistance has been provided to local community members in cooperation with churches with large numbers of Haitian-American congregants and with agencies such as the Caribbean-American Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
The recent trip to Haiti was organized by EMEDEX International, a nonprofit medical relief organization formed by emergency medicine physicians at Downstate and Kings County who have worked in several developing countries. The effort was supported in part through their own personal contributions.
Dr. Robert Gore, who has volunteered in Haiti before, arrived in Port-au-Prince a few days in advance to make arrangements so that the Downstate group could hit the ground running. “We got off the plane, dropped off our bags, put stethoscopes on, and started working,” said Dr. Christina Bloem, a founding member and director of EMEDEX.
Working under tents set up on the hospital’s courtyard, the team split into three shifts and provided overnight emergency room coverage that previously had been lacking. The Downstate doctors and nurses, including three who are of Haitian descent, saw a variety of emergent and chronic conditions.
They report that while some of the medical complaints they treated resulted from the earthquake, many were typical emergency room kinds of injuries and illnesses. Because of the widespread destruction of the both the physical and governmental infrastructure, people needing medical attention now have few options beyond the field hospital operations being run by volunteer organizations from around the world.
In addition to Drs. Bloem and Gore, the Downstate team included Drs. Trushar Naik, Joshua Schechter, and Ernest Garnier and emergency department nurses Eunide Dannell, Debra Barrow, and Marie France Senat-Zephir. The group plans to return to Haiti in April and expects to do fundraising to pay for a series of visits to help the Haitian people.
Other physicians from Downstate who have recently gone to Haiti include Dr. Lorenzo Paladino and Dr. Margaret Donat. Dr. Paladino’s group spent most of their week in Haiti traveling with backpacks into the more remote areas surrounding Port-au-Prince, often providing care to people who had not received any medical attention since the quake. He reported that a large number of the people have had amputations.
Dr. Donat described the scene in Haiti as heartbreaking and overwhelming. “I had a tent of 21 patients that I took care of, and all of them had either one or more amputated limbs – arms, legs, feet, or toes,” she said. “There are no prostheses available, no psychiatrists to help them cope with the trauma of not just losing body parts, but also losing loved ones and dealing with the pain, suffering, and devastation. People who worked all their life to build their dream house are now homeless.” She added, “There is so much to be done. I am imploring anyone who can to please lend a hand. Haiti needs our help.”
Downstate’s counseling outreach to the Haitian-American community in Brooklyn has been a joint effort by numerous departments, including the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the Chaplains’ Office, the Employee Assistance Program, the Center for Community Health Promotion and Wellness, the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Office of Campus Police and Public Safety, Biomedical Communications, the Office of Governmental and Community Relations, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and Institutional Advancement. Staff and student volunteers who speak Kreyol have provided translating and interpreting assistance.
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.
SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from Downstate than from any other medical school.