Forty-two miles outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stands Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS); the fact that the hospital is literally still standing is a ray of hope for a nation dealing with a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.
John Walton, President of HAS Board of Directors, has been in constant contact with hospital staff since the earthquake struck. Although buildings in towns even further from Port-au-Prince were crushed, "our hospital building, luckily, escaped damage," possibly because it was constructed using U.S. building codes in 1956. While stressing that accurately assessing the situation on the ground is extremely difficult, Walton speculated that Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti could be "one of the only places providing surgical care this close to Port-au-Prince."
With no phone communication Walton has relied on the Internet to get information from the hospital. He learned the 120 bed hospital "went over capacity within minutes following the earthquake," as the staff of 200 immediately shifted into mass casualty protocol. With virtually all arriving patients suffering from crushed or broken bones the x-ray machines are in constant use and the two operating rooms "are running flat-out." And Walton expressed concern about the condition of the patients upon arrival: "The road from Port-au-Prince to Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is in bad shape; under normal conditions the drive can take up to 3 hours. When I think of the injured piled three, four or more in the back of a pick-up truck, all of them with horrible injuries, bouncing along that rough road... I can't even imagine the pain they're in when they arrive at the hospital." Currently the hospital has over 200 patients, Walton said it's getting more and more difficult to handle more: "We're trying to help people as rapidly as we can to make room as more of the injured arrive, but after they're treated many of the injured have nowhere to go, their homes are just gone." Seriously injured people are still streaming in, and as word gets out in Port-au-Prince that the hospital is still standing ("It took a little while for people to realize we hadn't been crushed') Walton thinks those numbers will continue to rise, until groups including Doctors Without Borders and the United States military have temporary hospital facilities up and running in Port-au-Prince.
Writing on the HAS blog, Managing Director Ian Rawson characterized the current situation as "the most serious challenge faced by HAS in its 54 year history." Walton knows the staff is well-trained to handle the crisis, but also knows they desperately need help. "Right now we are dealing with the deluge," Walton said, "but this recovery will be years long. We've been here for 54 years, and we're going to be here next year, and the year after, and the year after that. We are going to be here during the entire recovery period." Cash donations, he said, will not just help Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti handle this crisis but "will go toward continuing our long-term commitment to the people of Haiti."
Donations are coming in, "almost completely by word of mouth," and Walton was grateful and overwhelmed by the generous response. Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is accepting donations on its website.
"It aligns with the need, and the need is great," said John Walton. "We're helping everyone who comes to our door."
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