Published on : March 01, 2011

Changing and Helping Healthcare in Haiti

Changing and Helping Healthcare in Haiti

When Dr. Olajire Idowu, a pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Oakland, California, sought help for a mission to provide sorely needed medical care in Haiti, he turned to his friend Christopher P. Ratcliff.

Dr. Idowu had seen Ratcliff’s youngest daughter through a medical crisis several years earlier, and the experience had forged a bond between the doctor and the Ratcliff family and inspired the young woman to pursue a career in medicine.  
She organized her high school classmates to put on a fundraiser for Dr. Idowu’s philanthropic organization, Medical Care for Children of All Races Everywhere (Medical C.A.R.E.), which embarks on missions to provide proper training, tools, and techniques to local doctors and nurses in developing countries.

A Quest to Improve Conditions at St.Therese Hospital

The healthcare group will travel to Hinche (pronounced “Ench” in Kreyol), Haiti, where we will lay the groundwork to construct a new emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU) at St. Therese Hospital.  

St. Therese is the main hospital for Hinche and much of the surrounding area, serving an estimated 220,000 people. It was built in the 1930s by the U.S. Marines during one of the American occupations of Haiti and is currently run by the Haitian Ministry of Health in partnership with Partners in Health and Project Medishare. It provides a variety of services including surgeries, deliveries, dental, HIV and tuberculosis care. 1

St. Therese has a crumbling infrastructure and technology that is well behind what is considered standard in developed nations. Patients are admitted to shared, open air wards. There are no private rooms save a few isolation rooms for TB-infected patients. There are no CAT scans, no EKGs, no ventilators. The current “Emergency Room” is literally a room that is too small and ill-equipped to care for patients in an efficient manner.2

The mission will be both rewarding and challenging. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere; healthcare services are scant and resemble less than combat medical services. The country is still reeling from the devastating earthquake that struck Port Au Prince in 2010.

A Challenging and Rewarding Adventure

The challenges will include adjusting standards (architectural and engineering) to the realities of the region while bringing value to a hospital campus lacking basic necessities and infrastructure.  Being accustomed to designing to the exacting standards of Western codes and requirements; learning to work with local building officials and building materials will also serve as a learning experience for the healthcare group.

Sustainability is very much a part of the program. The firm’s director of sustainability will be working to ensure that the efforts are healing not only to the people of Haiti but to the environment.  

Joining with Medical C.A.R.E. on this project is Dr. Rick Spurlock of Emergency Physicians International (EPI), a non- profit organization that seeks to improve medical care in developing countries by building EDs and ICUs and enhancing the clinical skills of local providers.  Once the ED and ICU are completed and effectively self sufficient, the facility will become part of the EPI foundation.  In this way the work of the team will be truly sustainable—carried on by the local community.

This project never stops.  Aside from bricks and mortar there is a need to purchase equipment, secure donated equipment and obtain a lengthy list of supplies, from stretchers and IV poles to EKG machines and oxygen tanks.

The people of Haiti are proud, beautiful and full of hope.  The personal joys associated with putting human compassion as a priority in serving communities in need of medical care is the greatest reward possible.

If you would like to learn more about the project and ways you can help, visit the websites of Medical C.A.R.E. and EPI.   

Notes:

1,2  http://epinternational.org/?page_id=21

About The author

Steven Steinberg, AIA, is Principal of Healthcare at RATCLIFF.  He has more than 25 years of experience in the architecture and real estate development industries.  He is a speaker at the upcoming Design & Health & World Congress and Exhibition in Boston.  Recent speaking engagements include the American Institute of Architects National Convention in Miami, Fl, 2010 and the Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo, Chicago, IL, 2009. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, The Center for Health Design, American Society of Healthcare Engineers, and the Urban Land Institute.  He serves as Planning Commissioner for the city of Emeryville and served two terms as chairman of the City of Scottsdale Planning Commission. He may be reached at  ssteinberg@ratcliffarch.com.