Update On Haiti and The Aftermath

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It has been a little over four months since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti that left hundreds of thousands in need of care. Nurses have played a pivotal role in the care and rebuilding of some many lives. Scott Plantz, MD, the publisher of Nursing Spectrum and NurseWeek magazines and the host of Nurse.com was in Haiti recently to volunteer at a hospital for survivors of the earthquake. He worked in Port-au-Prince at Project Medishare and the University of Miami Global Institute hospital which is located 200 yards away from the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport. Scott was working in a 10-bed Emergency Department with dirt floors, no privacy curtains and one trauma bay. Patients were taken care of in outdoor tents. Staff slept in tents and had water and food, most of the time. Protein bars and MREs (meals ready to eat) were the staple but occasionally a hot meal of rice and beans was provided.

Dr. Plantz also shared about the patients in the ER. Their injuries ranged from crushed bones to a sprinkling of tropical diseases. Many nurses and ED residents had never seen diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases, which were common. Patients who looked to be in their seventies were actually in their forties.

At the general hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince, medical staff says the number of nurses each day fluctuates. Sometimes there is a shortage, we are getting a different number each day, states Raul Khare, MD from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who flew to Haiti with the International Medical Corp. But Khare also says that the relief organizations are getting better at organizing how much nursing staff they need as quake-related injuries dwindle and primary care and infectious diseases become the main concern. The three most common concerns that nurses in Haiti are dealing with at this time are chronic conditions, infectious diseases and psychological stress. One encouraging note is that Haitian nurses are beginning to return to their posts.

One group that is still active in Haiti is the National Nurses United Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN). Their nurses come from a variety of medical specialties including intensive care, medical-surgical and pediatrics. These volunteers will work alongside Haitian doctors and nurses. “We have learned from our experience in Hurricane Katrina, that the kind of skills needed in the weeks and months following a disaster are nursing skills,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, Director of RNRN. “The kind of care that’s needed is everyday care, and things are exacerbated by the lack of medication and basic first aid. Wounds fester and spread. Something that was preventable ends up a life-threatening situation. Nurses are the heart of a long-term recovery effort.”

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