From the Field: DEM Volunteering Medical Relief in Haiti
Occasionally, staff members at San Francisco DEM have an opportunity to travel abroad. They frequently write back with their observations. The following journals a recent trip by DEM Emergency Medical Services Agency staff members, Crystal Wright and John Brown, who went to Haiti to volunteer their personal time and professional expertise to the rural town of Leon.
Crystal Wright, EMT-P, and John Brown MD, recently returned from a week of volunteer work in rural Leon, a town of some 8,000 people in the Grande Anse province of southwestern Haiti. The reason for their visit was to support a local dispensary staffed with a nurse, a pharmacist, a dentist and a tuberculosis program health aide. The medical operation, begun in 2000 by the Seattle King County Disaster Team (a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team program of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department) as a training mission for health care providers to learn how to provide quality care in an austere environment, now provides services to the clinic every four months with a multi-disciplinary team of nurses, physicians, paramedics, EMTs, laboratorians and pharmacists.
Dr. Brown has participated in this effort annually since 2004 and finds enjoyment in seeing returning patients and families from treatment given in previous years. He’s noticed a slow but steady improvement in some infrastructure support since the significant earthquake in January 2010, and the improving overall health of the patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. The teams conform to World Health Organization standards for disease treatment and medications, and work with the local health care system, including the Haitian Health Foundation, to deliver preventive medicine teaching and supplies, and refer high risk patients to the nearby city of Jeremie for treatment.
During his free time on the mission, Dr. Brown enjoys visiting the children and staff at a local orphanage that he supports, and hiking the local trails to visit the farther flung villages in the community, and admire the lush flora and fauna of the countryside.
The trip was Crystal Wright’s first opportunity to participate in this mission, which she found rewarding and reinforcing of her commitment to caring for people.
Working with the Seattle King County Disaster Team was excellent; we had meetings every night to discuss our plans and performance at the clinic. And like Dr. Brown, I did enjoy visiting the orphanage and hiking around the community, as well as greeting as many persons as possible when our clinic had closed. My hope is to continue working with this team and seeing progress and improvement in the future, said Crystal.
New this year was the integration of an emergency physician from Canada, who had extensive knowledge of Haitian history and culture, and the improved care of women’s health needs based on a study done by the Seattle King County Disaster Team last fall to evaluate care for breast disease and sexually transmitted infections. The team regularly screens patients for HIV disease and refers high risk patients to a local treatment program.
Next year the team hopes to resume partnering with the Haitian health ministry to work with young Haitian MDs stationed at the clinic. They also hope to provide outreach services to several more remote villages in the Leon region that do not have dispensaries via mobile teams, which convert the community’s schoolhouse into a temporary clinic.