March 3, 2010

Maine-based efforts, donations help hospital run more smoothly


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John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Friday. 01/15/2010 Matt Wickenheiser studio photo.

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Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

Through Konbit Sante, Maine Med has donated old fire extinguishers that it had to replace but were still usable in Cap Haitien.

Konbit Sante built a supply depot for the hospital. Its shelves are stocked 12 feet high with everything from infant formula to hospital gowns -- ''everything you need to have a hospital,'' Nickerson said.

Dr. Marie-Carmelle Leconte, who is in charge of the operating room and anesthesiology, said there were some materials she had never heard of except in books or documentaries, such as specialized cardiac monitors for the vascular system. She has been able to get those things, she said.

''They talk to us and they offer their help, their support,'' said Leconte. ''It was like a miracle coming down from the sky that improved the condition of our work.''

Konbit Sante is developing a supply chain for the hospital, so it can order supplies ahead of the need. Now, said Nickerson, the hospital buys its supplies after they have run out, often in emergencies, and at full price.

The reasoning is simple. When you don't have much money, you don't buy supplies when you run out because you don't know what you're going to need.

''It's the economy of poverty,'' Nickerson said.

With a bit of planning, the hospital could get medical supplies and medicine at discounted prices, through agencies like the World Health Organization.

To find out what needs existed, Konbit Sante worked with a Harvard School of Public Health student to do a women's health study. One of the basic needs applied throughout the hospital.

It was difficult for patients to find their way around the hospital campus. So Konbit Sante worked with a Portland artist to develop signs with Creole words and images depicting the specialty practiced in the buildings -- a person with a broken arm and a broken leg for orthopedics, a woman with a bulging belly for maternity, for instance.

Those signs from Maine are everywhere.

Beyond the strictly physical, Konbit Sante helps with personnel. The group funds 26 positions, including doctors, nurses and health care administrators.

''Before Konbit Sante, we had a lot of trouble to fund drugs, supplies to be used for the patients. We are a university hospital -- we didn't have enough attending (physicians),'' said Dr. Rony St. Fleur, one of two pediatricians who are funded by the nonprofit. ''Konbit Sante is very useful for us.''

Leconte and Coq have visited Maine through Konbit Sante. Both spoke of their appreciation of the state, and of the relationships the nonprofit has worked hard to build in Cap Haitien.

''We appreciate the relationship. It's very respectful for Haitian people, for Haitian leadership,'' said Coq, who visited Maine in 2007. ''We are hopeful that Konbit Sante will stay longer and longer in the country, and always in the Justinian Hospital.''

The members of Konbit Sante are ''like brothers and sisters,'' said Leconte. ''They support you, they appreciate you, they love you.''

Leconte, whom Konbit Sante brought to Portland to visit Maine Med in July, said she thanked the people in Maine. ''Thank you for understanding us, for supporting us. Psychologically, it is important to me.''


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

mwickenheiser@pressherald.comFounded in 2000, the Portland-based Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership works to improve health care in northern Haiti by working with the Haitian Ministry of Health. The ministry operates the Justinian Hospital, a 250-bed teaching facility and a public medical clinic in Cap Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city (population 180,000), about 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

Haitian staffers: 26

Maine staffers: 3

Active Maine volunteers: 70

Maine volunteers who traveled to Haiti last year: 31

Containers filled with medical supplies shipped from Portland: 11

Donations and grants in 2009: $400,933

In-kind contributions in 2009: $342,488

Contact information: P.O. Box 11281, Portland ME 04104, 347-6733,

To donate to the Konbit Sante Earthquake Reponse Fund: Visit or make checks payable to Konbit Sante, and note Earthquake Response Fund in the memo field.


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Additional Photos

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: A boy rests in the surgical unit at Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, Haiti on Tuesday, January 19, 2010. Despite the slow trickle of patients that have come in from Port au Prince, the hospital is near capacity with patients.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Signs identifying the different units at Justinian Hospital were designed by a Portland artist and put in place by Konbit Sante. Because much of the population of Cap Haitien is illiterate, the signs were designed so people could recognize the unit by the symbol.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: A member of the surgical staff at the Justinian Hospital sleeps on a wall outside the operating unit early in the morning on Tuesday, January 19, 2010. A bus with earthquake victims arrived at the hospital at 1 a.m. and the surgical staff worked on them through the night.

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