U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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On the Ground at the Gheskio Field Clinic in Haiti
February 4, 2010
Dick Thompson, an HHS public information officer on the ground in Haiti, reports:
The Gheskio site may hold the record as the most challenging site HHS disaster teams have ever deployed. Here in Port-au-Prince, DMAT and IMSuRT teams created overnight a trauma center, arguably as good as any in the U.S. Yet, they work under conditions not seen in the U.S. in over 100 years.
This facility is located next to one of the largest Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Port-au-Prince. It is situated in a former school with single story buildings but more than half the facility was rendered unsafe by the January 12 earthquake. Because of space limitations, the tents were popped inside the school’s central garden. These serve as emergency, pre-op, surgery, and recovery. Two other tents also serve as sleeping areas, but the overflow of team members sleep on cots under the covered walkway. Several of these are designated as “hot cots” to be used by two people as shifts rotate.
Sites like Gheskio are designed to handle a flood of emergencies. From here, if necessary, patients are transferred to a facility that can meet the special needs of the patients (such as neurosurgery aboard the USNS Comfort), or even evacuated to the U.S. for more advanced life-saving treatment that cannot be handled in Haiti.
The facility can function at such a high level because Gheskio is built on the experience of dozens of disasters. Despite challenging conditions, surgeons working here say that the emergency treatment provided at Gheskio is as good as any trauma center in the U.S. In the early weeks, many of the surgeries were amputations. By week four, they were repairing the work done immediately after the earthquake. And now they are also delivering babies, lots of babies, frequently following complicated, life-threatening births. So as huge as the challenges of working at Gheskio are, the rewards come in equal measure.
As Dr. Sue Briggs, an associate professor of surgery at Massachusetts General said, “This is not our job. This is our passion.”