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Red Cross Support for Hospital Both Treats and Trains Haitians

Haitian nurse Judith Catulle and Hospital Bernard Mevs/Project Medishare each have made great progress in the 18-months since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti.

With more than $5 million in financial support from the American Red Cross – including $2 million in new additional funding – Hospital Bernard Mevs/Project Medishare will be able to keep its doors open at a time when its services are greatly needed. It is the only hospital in Port-au-Prince offering critical care and trauma services, and has added other medical services over the past year.

Catulle is about to become director of the critical care unit.

The earthquake in January 2010 killed four of her family members – one sister, two nephews and a sister-in-law died – but Judith knew in the hours after the disaster that she was needed at the hospital.

“They needed my help; I’m a nurse,” recalled Judith, who had joined the hospital as a nursing school graduate in 2006. “I needed to come, even with my family’s losses.”

Judith is ready for her new job after training with visiting nurses from North America, part of the hospital’s efforts to improve the professional capacity of Haitian medical staff.

“It’s a big responsibility, but I know I’m capable,” says Judith, who is 31 years old. “I’ll help the other nurses as well as the patients.”

Karen Miller, a nurse anesthetist from Ohio who’s been at the 50-bed hospital since last September, is preparing to hand over the critical care unit to Judith. When she arrived in Haiti about 10 months ago, Karen says, there was a lot of turnover among the hospital staff and they were unfamiliar with the sorts of equipment – such as EKGs and ventilators – that are standard for such units in developed countries. In addition, it’s important to remember that Haiti’s medical system was woefully underfunded and overstretched even before the earthquake.

“They’d never had training in how to care for critically ill patients,” Karen says. Before the hospital’s critical-care unit became fully operational, most critically injured patients died.

Since then, Karen has tried to be a constant source of guidance for the local staff. Through the collaboration with Project Medishare, foreign doctors and nurses have rotated through the hospital on short training stints. Over time, the skill-building has paid off. Pointing to Judith as a prime example, Karen says many local staff are able to handle the load now.

She and others credit the American Red Cross with the support to keep the hospital running.

“Without the Red Cross, we don’t have a hospital, we can’t treat any patients” says Dr Gillian Hotz, an American who is international director with Project Medishare. She ticks off a few items on the long list of expenses that Red Cross support is funding: staff, supplies, equipment, oxygen, water. It has also allowed the hospital to keep open its opthamology wing, a pediatric respiratory unit, and other advanced services.

“The lives we’ve saved and the training we’ve done have just been incredible,” says Dr Hotz. “We can take a nurse and she can run a critical care unit now. These girls never worked 24/7 before. They’ve really stepped up.” Quite simply, she adds, “We’re trying to change the culture of trauma critical care” in Haiti.

Karen says that “aside from becoming a nurse anesthetist, coming to Haiti was the best decision I ever made. Seeing the desire for knowledge and learning that is here, it’s something we take for granted in the States. You end up helping them help themselves.”

Judith says her professional growth has made her see last year’s disaster in a new light. “Even though the earthquake was very difficult, something positive came out of it,” she said. “Thank you Red Cross for the work that you do, thank you for the collaboration. Thank you, thank you.”