Grace Children's Hospital Providing Health and Hope in Haiti
by Rachel Gieringer Mills and Ann Simmons
Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12, 2010, having just finished eating their usual dinner of beans and rice, the young patients at Grace Children's Hospital returned to the main area of the inpatient ward. There, the infants rested in their cribs, their bellies full of milk, while the older children gathered in front of the television set. It was 4:53 p.m., and winter darkness had begun to fall on the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Then, without warning, the hospital's evening routine was shattered. The whole building began to shake! Sudden panic swept through Grace Children's Hospital. For nearly a full minute, the children and nurses alike cried out in fear and confusion. The walls of the ward shuddered and crumbled--sending the TV set, medical supplies, and oxygen tanks careening across the floor.
There were 11 children, including six babies, in the hospital's inpatient ward that night. As the shaking subsided, each staff member scooped up a baby and started leading older children outside. The staff made quick trips in and out of the building to evacuate all the children and to salvage supplies. Then, as the band of survivors gathered outside in the courtyard, night fell and powerful aftershocks began, adding to the chaos.
Emmanuella, one of the older children, was so frightened that she ran and huddled near a wall in the hospital's garage. As the wall crumbled behind her, she was killed by falling debris.
Though the inpatient ward did not collapse during the initial earthquake, its structure was severely damaged, as was much of the hospital's main campus. Since all the hospital buildings were now uninhabitable, the children had to be cared for outside in salvaged cribs and beds, sheltered by tarps strung up between the trees.
A Center for Response
Thankfully, the hospital's administrative building remained intact, along with the ophthalmology, pediatric outpatient, and reproductive health clinics located across the street from the main campus. Grace Children's Hospital administrators quickly began forming partnerships with other nonprofit organizations in the area. By Friday, January 15, the eye clinic had been reopened as an emergency surgery and treatment center. There, medical relief teams from Germany and the United States worked alongside members of the Haitian staff. In the empty lots behind the clinic, a large tent with cots was set up for postoperative patient care.
The buildings of Haiti's national tuberculosis headquarters were also destroyed during the earthquake. So the Grace Children's Hospital campus became the new headquarters, ensuring a steady flow of TB medications and supplies to eight of the country's 10 departments (administrative divisions, as in France). Given the logistical challenges, there were fears that many patients' treatments would be disrupted, possibly resulting in drug-resistant TB and more deaths. However, by the following Monday--less than a week after the devastating earthquake--the outpatient clinics were back on schedule, treating 300 patients per day under tarps and tents in the hospital courtyard. The staff at Grace Children's Hospital felt it was important not only to meet the new challenges posed by the earthquake but also to provide uninterrupted health care services to the community at large.
Eye Clinics and Water Filters
One new community program that stemmed from the disaster was the development of mobile eye clinics. International Child Care (ICC), which owns and operates Grace Children's Hospital, has a first-rate ophthalmology staff. Staff members now travel into the tent camps of the Delmas neighborhood, performing eye exams and offering follow-up treatment at the hospital's main eye clinic. The mobile eye clinics have offered hundreds of patients the opportunity to receive treatment for earthquake injuries as well as injuries sustained in the close living quarters of the tent camps.
As concerns arose over the potential outbreak of disease, ICC began working to combat the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases. In partnership with other organizations--Pure Water for the World; the Rotary Clubs of Kalamazoo and Coldwater, Michigan; Coldwater United Methodist Church; and the Rotary Foundation--ICC began installing Bio-sand Water Filters at schools throughout Haiti. From May to October 2010, 70 filters, benefitting 23,573 students, were installed in schools. Another 80 schools have been chosen to receive filters and hygiene training, and plans are being laid for the filters' installation. The Bio-sand Water Filters can clean more than 99 percent of impurities from water in a speedy low-tech process. The locally made concrete filters, containing varying levels of sand, gravel, and a biological substance, are used to filter out impurities. Adding a drop of bleach to the filtered water finishes the process.
In conjunction with the Bio-sand Water Filter installation, teachers and school administrators receive hygiene education at a three-day training session. Upon completion of the program, all trainees are given similar instruction materials to take back to their classrooms. Teachers are also trained on the setup, proper use, and maintenance of the Bio-sand Water Filters. New signs have been installed on the sidewalks outside the hospital to remind passers-by of the importance of proper hygiene and the community's responsibility to maintain safe sanitary practices.
Taking a Heavy Toll
Meeting the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the International Child Care and Grace Children's Hospital staff became a high priority for ICC following the earthquake. The ICC family lost three Haitian colleagues, and many members suffered great personal losses as well. However, in spite of their own struggles, the staff members have remained dedicated to helping their Haitian brothers and sisters. Each has a story of tragic loss, and all suffered psychological, if not physical, trauma. More than 70 percent of the employees of ICC-Haiti lost their homes, leaving them without personal belongings or basic necessities. Accessing water and food for the patients and staff after the disaster was very challenging. However, within days, World Vision delivered more than 25,500 bags of rice to the hospital for distribution. The United States Army installed a water tank on the property that holds thousands of gallons of potable water. ICC provided meals for the hospital staff and their families.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have affected many of the staff and patients at Grace Children's Hospital, along with millions of others throughout Haiti. In the wake of the tragedy, teams of psychologists, social workers, teachers, and clergy arrived at Grace Children's Hospital to provide support and training for those on the front lines of patient care. The teams brought a combination of experience in mass trauma relief, PTSD, teaching and training, and spiritual support. Sessions were offered that encouraged personal sharing and group support. Techniques for responding to individual cases and mass trauma were modeled. Art therapy, deep breathing, and guided visualization were also offered, creating extensive opportunities for participants to regain a sense of control over their lives. Follow-up sessions have included ongoing group support, symptom recognition, and individual stress management.
Rebuilding With the Community
Shortly after the earthquake, ICC leaders formed a Relief and Reconstruction (R&R) office, which has been dedicated to supporting relief efforts and helping to shape the rebuilding plans for Grace Children's Hospital. The R&R office is overseeing the demolition of condemned buildings on the hospital campus and the building of transitional facilities to house ICC programs until a new hospital can be erected. Most of the transitional facilities were completed during the summer of 2010 across the street from the main campus. They include an inpatient ward, an on-site school for long-term patients, and outpatient clinics.
The R&R office also spearheaded a program to employ workers from the neighborhoods surrounding Grace Children's Hospital. These workers were paid a fair wage, received meals before and during their shifts, and attended health education classes taught by the hospital staff. Many North American supporters have expressed an interest in helping Haiti to rebuild. Some groups have already visited Haiti through ICC-sponsored Mission Education Encounter Teams (MEETs) to observe programs and help with construction projects. As part of its mission, ICC remains committed to employing Haitians for most of the work and stipulates that three Haitian laborers must be employed for every North American on visiting work crews. If you would like more information on the MEET program or would like to visit Haiti, please contact the ICC-USA office.
United Methodist Partners
International Child Care has a long-standing partnership with the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). For decades, United Methodist congregations have supported the work of Grace Children's Hospital in Haiti by giving through the Advance. In the earthquake's aftermath, this partnership has grown stronger. Within weeks of the tragedy, UMCOR granted ICC $99,000 to provide salary support for the dedicated staff at the hospital. Support continued throughout 2010.
International Child Care received an UMCOR grant of $99,000 to help establish a rehabilitation program at Grace Children's Hospital. Plans are now underway for a new state-of-the-art hospital facility that will include a rehabilitation center. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 2,000 new amputees in Haiti since the earthquake.
International Child Care has entered into a new partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well. USAID has awarded a $400,000 grant to Grace Children's Hospital to help reconstruct the hospital facilities. This grant is from the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) and will be applied to earthquake rebuilding expenses. Although such large grants are a huge blessing to ICC's programs in Haiti, the commitment of individual donors is still needed to ensure that the work at Grace Children's Hospital and in the surrounding communities can continue and thrive.
Thanks to the indomitable spirit of the Haitian people, the loyalty of International Child Care's faithful supporters, the critical partnerships forged through a common mission, and the leadership demonstrated in the earthquake's aftermath, the ICC family is able to continue its mission of serving Haitian children and their families, not only today but well into the future. Donations to Grace Children's Hospital may be made to Advance #418520.
Rachel Gieringer Mills is the Education and Communication Coordinator for ICC-USA and has been on staff for more than 10 years. Ann Simmons has worked for ICC-USA for more than two years as a Communication and Development Coordinator.
International Child Care
International Child Care is a Christian health development organization. Operating in Haiti since 1967 and in the Dominican Republic since 1988, ICC is working to change the conditions of poverty that impact children's health and well-being.
Grace Children's Hospital Earthquake Response 2010
Date posted: May 24, 2011