The Corner

Hope in Haiti

Almost a year after a devastating earthquake brought Haiti to its knees, international aid agencies have been criticized for undermining the nation’s own health system, as private clinics cannot compete with the free medical assistance offered by NGOs. The earthquake also tested Hôpital Sacré Coeur — a 74-bed Haitian-directed hospital in the northern town of Milot, supported by the Massachusetts-based Crudem Foundation. But the unprecedented challenge posed by the earthquake has actually fueled the transformation of this 25-year-old institution into Haiti’s top referring hospital, with an expansion now underway.

Located 75 miles from Haiti’s devastated capital, Hôpital Sacré Coeur suffered no damages from the earthquake and never turns away patients who can’t pay. Within days of the disaster, it welcomed survivors airlifted by the U.S. Coast Guard.  The 74-bed facility mushroomed to 400 beds, and rotating teams of U.S. physician-volunteers arrived to assist with the flood of patients.

A month later, the emergency response at Sacré Coeur shifted to patient rehabilitation, as amputees were fitted with prosthetic limbs and Haitian medical trainees collaborated with U.S. orthopedic physicians and physical therapists to establish a prosthetic clinic. The hospital’s longtime focus on training and empowering Haitian medical personnel and administrators, since it was founded by the Montreal Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1986, has paid off.

Today, that means the hospital will be able to maintain its prosthetic services in the years ahead, when young amputees return to the hospital for replacements as they grow into adulthood. They will be cared for by certified prosthetists who are Haitian, just as other routine procedures at the hospital are managed by full-time Haitian staff.

As Haiti responds to a fast-growing cholera epidemic, the hospital has welcomed another surge of patients, who bypassed other hospitals to reach Milot. Sacré Coeur is an official Cholera Treatment Center, and initially its community health workers provided prevention education throughout the region, successfully containing the outbreak. An ill-timed hurricane reversed that achievement, and the hospital has received hundreds of patients.

The epidemic has delayed, but not shelved Sacré Coeur’s  plans for expanding its health-care services and training programs for nurses and paramedical personnel. “Overnight Hôpital Sacré Coeur became the hospital to a country and we have adjusted our plans accordingly. We hope to equip a new generation of health-care professionals, and are well positioned to take on this role,” reported Peter Kelly, MD, president of the Crudem Foundation.

While some Haitian clinics and hospitals have struggled in the aftermath of the earthquake, Hôpital Sacré Coeur offers a stable collaborative model that unites Haitian personnel and U.S. medical volunteers sustained by a passion for the health of the Haitian people.

– Joan Frawley Desmond, a freelance writer who covers religious and cultural issues, blogs at www.thecathoholic.com and lives in Maryland.

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