Doctors at Keck plan future relief efforts in Haiti

As part of its continuing efforts to aid Haiti, the USC Keck School of Medicine is planning to send teams to Haiti in early April and is working to create permanent trauma facilities for the country devastated by an earthquake more than two months ago.

Doing good · Dr. Henri Ford (right), Keck’s vice dean for medical education, is pictured here with Raymond Joseph, Haitian Ambassador to the United States. Ford is a native of Haiti.- Photo courtesy of Keck School of Medicine

Last week, a group of three Keck doctors traveled to Haiti for a day to conduct an assessment tour and prepare to send teams April 3.

“We’d like to offer our assistance for as much and as long as possible,” said Dr. Lydia Lam, an assistant professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School and one of the doctors who went on the tour.

Lam will be part of the first group going to Haiti on April 3. The group will work with a University of Miami team at the Project Medishare facility.

“There remains continuing medical needs there, and what we’ve done at the Keck School is developed a sustained response where we’ll be sending teams of individuals on a weekly basis starting in April,” Keck Dean Carmen Puliafito said. “We’d like to keep doing this over the short term, over the next several months, and, at the same time, we’re looking at participating in a process of developing a set of trauma and acute care hospitals in Haiti.”

Puliafito met with the deans of the School of Social Work, the Viterbi School of Engineering, and the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and other schools to actively engage the USC community in Keck’s efforts to help rebuild Haiti.

Puliafito said he has considered sending interested medical students and residents to serve in Haiti later this year when the environment has stabilized. If students go, attending physicians would accompany them to oversee their work.

“We’re going to do our best to stay involved in Haiti,” Puliafito said. “It’s probably the greatest humanitarian crisis that has occurred in the Western Hemisphere ever because of the tremendous loss of life, 300,000 people dead, tremendous destruction of the infrastructure, and in a country that was really quite poor.”

While the three doctors conducted the assessment of medical needs in Haiti, Dr. Henri Ford, vice dean for medical education at Keck, and Amy Puliafito, the project manager for the Keck School’s Haiti Initiative, attended a conference in Washington, D.C., where they met with Haitian medical leaders and leaders of U.S. Academic Health Centers, non-governmental organizations and other colleges and universities. The conference attendees shared information about different relief operations to identify and coordinate strategies for future efforts.

According to Amy Puliafito, the ongoing challenge for the U.S. Health and Human Services, academic institutions and non-profit organizations is assessing where resources are most needed based on the damage sustained to medical facilities and their current capacity to see and treat patients and provide critical and emergency care.

“The situation on the ground in Haiti post-earthquake demonstrated the limited capacity of … the Haitian health sector,” Amy Puliafito said. “The lack of critical care availability — I think that really came out post-quake.”

Ford, who went to Haiti immediately after the earthquake with a medical relief team from Keck and is originally from Haiti, said he recognizes the importance of staying involved in the relief efforts.

“There is no question after spending two weeks in Haiti and … after seeing the magnitude of the suffering and the ongoing medical needs, I have decided that I need to remain engaged,” Ford said. “As a pediatric surgeon who is Haitian-American, I feel that I am uniquely positioned to help establish a trauma health system in Haiti.”

Ford said Keck is working in conjunction with the University of Miami, Project Medishare, Haiti United and the Haitian Ministry of Health to form a public-private partnership in addressing the country’s future medical needs.

“We believe that this initiative is going to establish the national trauma critical care and rehab center in Haiti that is going to allow people to finally begin to get the quality of care that they can benefit from,” he said.

Ford is leading efforts toward building a sustainable critical care infrastructure in Haiti. He said the project cost is estimated at $60 million.

“The situation in Haiti is really serious. The problem did not just end after the administration of emergency medical help,” Ford said. “The calamity persists, the need is ongoing and therefore our commitment to supporting Haiti cannot stop.”

Since returning from the conference, Ford has gone to Miami and Haiti and met with representatives from the University of Miami and Project Medishare as well as Haitian Ministry of Health officials to discuss priorities in rebuilding the Haitian medical system.

“Seeing the hope, the faith, the determination in the Haitian people was also very reassuring,” Ford said of his interaction with people from his experiences in Haiti after the earthquake. “In their despair, they never lost faith. It is for this reason, I believe that ultimately Haiti is going to bounce back, Haiti is going to be stronger than ever and Haiti will regain its position as it once was, the jewel of the Caribbean.”