March 3, 2010

Konbit Sante builds on background of trust


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Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, talks with Pierre Chevannes, executive director of Justinian Hospital, outside the hospital in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on Sunday. Nickerson went to the hospital to coordinate plans to take in more casualties from Port-au-Prince.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Staff Writer

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — Roughly 85 victims of Tuesday's earthquake have been treated at Justinian Hospital here, after the city's mayor sent six buses down to Port-au-Prince to collect patients.

Another six-bus convoy is expected this afternoon, with the same number of victims or more. And with more U.S. Marines expected in the country and increasing numbers of international troops to search through rubble, more survivors will be found.

And more capacity to airlift victims, quite possibly to Cap-Haitien.

''My feeling is you need to be prepared for a lot of patients, and we can help you,'' said Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, a Portland-based nonprofit that has been working for a decade with partners in Cap-Haitien to improve the city's health care system.

Nickerson flew to the Dominican Republic on Saturday, then took the seven-hour bus trip to Cap-Haitien on Sunday, fighting motion sickness all the way. Within a half-hour of checking into his hotel, he was riding through the streets of the Cap-Haitien chaos in a pickup that dodged pedestrians, motorbikes and other trucks to get to Justinian and assess firsthand the needs of the hospital.

He was briefed by Dr. Jean-Gracia Coq, the medical director of the hospital. The meeting grew to about a dozen people, as Konbit Sante staff, hospital staff and members from another medically oriented nonprofit filtered in.

Nickerson slowly, politely prodded Coq, trying to assess hospital needs and what Konbit Sante could do to help.

''What teams would you want?'' he asked.

''Trauma teams, anesthesiologists, radiologists,'' Coq said.

''Do you need ER teams?'' Nickerson asked.

''My team is exhausted,'' came the reply.

''Do you have enough fuel?''

''Not enough.''

When Konbit Sante first started work at Justinian, those sorts of questions were met with skepticism. But because the nonprofit has proved itself able to help secure and coordinate supplies, medical volunteers and cash, there's trust. There's confidence. And coordination.

They considered setting up tents to handle more patients from Port-au-Prince. But Carwyn Hill, of the nonprofit Haiti Hospital Appeal, said his group had an empty building -- all they needed was beds.

Nickerson found immediately that the hospital had two X-ray machines that worked, thanks to repairs made earlier by Konbit Sante. But they had no radiologic supplies, and so no X-rays. That and other supplies can be bought in the Dominican Republic and shipped over by land, Nickerson said, and paid for in the United States.

Nickerson had a line on a potential shipment of supplies through Johns Hopkins University but needed to know if a jet could be cleared to land at the Cap-Haitien airport. A series of phone calls later, they got that permission.

A number of health professionals will be showing up to help, Nickerson said. He suggested Konbit Sante prepare a schedule so that volunteers could be spread out over time, making sure the hospital's needs were met over a longer period.

The meeting lasted more than an hour, and it wasn't the end of a long day. Nickerson met later that night with the regional United Nations director to get a sense of the needs from Port-au-Prince and what would be expected from Cap-Haitien.

This morning, he planned to get a comprehensive list of what Justinian needed in terms of supplies, volunteers and other resources. Then the job would be matching up disaster needs, hospital resources and demands and offerings of help from the global community.

To do that, he would plug into the network of connections Konbit Sante has built up over the past decade.

''This is just the beginning,'' he said.


Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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