Volunteers visit Haiti to teach, help and heal
8 teams provide care and much-needed medical training
More than two years have passed since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, killing over 220,000 people and injuring nearly 300,000. While progress is being made in the country's reconstruction, cholera and malnutrition continue to plague the population. Additionally, half a million men, women and children, displaced from their homes by the quake, continue to live in crowded shelters, which elevates public health risks.
Answering an ongoing need for help
Understanding that the need for medical assistance and resources continues long after a tragedy strikes, Mayo Clinic physicians looked for ways to help the people of Haiti for the long-term, offering aid, education and resources for rebuilding health care.
Eight teams of Mayo Clinic employees traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from February to June 2011 to help people still struggling from the earthquake. "Our wonderful institution was founded to a large degree by a coalition that responded unselfishly to a disaster here in Rochester, Minnesota," says Walter Franz III, M.D., medical team leader for the first Mayo team to visit. "Our efforts in Haiti as well as in Louisiana sustain these values."
While patient care was important, the focus of the trips was to provide knowledge and tools the people of Haiti could use after Mayo teams left.
Educating patients and providers
"Without sustainability, you're not fixing the problem; you're just throwing resources at it," says Stephanie Koonce, M.D., General Surgery. "And, the Haitian staff was interested in taking on more responsibilities to provide better care for patients."
With so many patients to care for, training often happened in tandem with patient care. "We did a lot of teaching at the bedside," says Torrey Laack, M.D., Emergency Medicine. "We'd try to see a patient together ... and we would talk through the cases."
Working together to provide better patient care
Finding the best solutions often required combining the knowledge of Mayo volunteers and Haitian staff.
One team used a mannequin to explain the effects of diabetes. "They were interested in learning how they can teach patients to take care of themselves," says Lisa Hovet, Critical Care. "After we finished the training, you could see them discussing among themselves."
Dr. Laack and others on his team used basic simulation to explain techniques to the Haitian staff with Dr. Laack and other Mayo team members acting as patients.
Empowering staff with tools and technology
The teams also helped create tools the Haitian staff could continue to use. Dr. Laack worked with the Haitian staff to gather supplies for a code cart, and John Rueter, Pharmacy Services, created replicas of Mayo's anesthesia carts for a new operating room suite in Haiti.
Rueter and others from Pharmacy also helped install a software program to maintain pharmaceutical supplies. While the last team returned in mid-June, the training and assistance has continued. The pharmacists can sign into the Internet-based program when needed for training and assistance and are in regular communication with hospital staff in Haiti via Skype and e-mail.
Keeping in touch with regular video conferences and consultations
The first live videoconference between the Haitian staff and Mayo Clinic physicians occurred during the seventh team's visit. These videoconferences still occur regularly, enabling continued communication between staff in Haiti and at Mayo.
The Haitians were not the only ones who benefited from the trips. "They are so appreciative of everything you can teach them," says Dr. Koonce. "It's humbling and reminds you of why you went into medicine."
"Hope and joy"
"Having been a part of the first Mayo team that went to Haiti, I can say Haiti and its people will always be in my heart," says a Mayo Clinic volunteer summing up the emotions.
"It's amazing to hear all that is being done to continue this very worthy mission while our staff are present there, but most importantly what is being done through education so even in our absence the wonderful care will continue."
"I'm so proud that Mayo is sharing their knowledge with these people who have so little but are filled with so much hope and joy."