Haiti Health Care Crisis Gets Help From Rockland County Mobile Clinic
Hundreds of people in Haiti are receiving much-needed medical care through a new mobile medical clinic run by a Rockland-based organization, donated by a local medical provider, and supplied with medicine and supplies by an international organization.
The tiny Caribbean nation, rocked by political instability and a natural disaster, is now facing mounting health crises, including a cholera outbreak.
“Day one we had 75 people. Day two, 125,” said Renold Julien, executive director of the nonprofit community center Konbit Neg Lakay and president of Rockland Haiti Relief, which manages and outfits the renovated motorhome. .
“We see them and we give them medicine,” Julien said, saying the medical director said he treated high blood pressure and diabetes on day one, performed pregnancy checkups and provided other care.
The clinic staff of seven is made up of paid doctors, nurses and office staff who work at the clinic one week a month in different locations. The first week was spent in Grand-Goâve. The next few months will include week-long stops in Gressier, Léogâne and Petit-Goâve.
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The clinic also received permission to treat inmates at nearby women’s prisons along the way, a gaping need, Julien said.
People who are not in prison are struggling to eat enough, Julien said. “A lot of prisoners die in Grand-Goâve.”
The United Nations Security Council announced this spring deaths from malnutrition in Haitian prisons.
“We get requests from all over Haiti,” Julien said. “I received a phone call today from Cité Soleil, they would like (the clinic) to come to the area for a week.” The impoverished community of approximately 40,000 people is located in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.
Partnership in Rockland and beyond
The RV Winnebago was donated by RefuahHealtha network of federally licensed community health centers serving low-income residents of New York’s Hudson Valley.
Refuah, based in New Square, has two clinics in Spring Valley and one in South Fallsburg, where there is a fleet of mobile clinics.
The health network serves Rockland County’s diverse community, with cultural and linguistic proficiency in Yiddish and Hebrew, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
While the county planning department reports that more than 15,000 people of Haitian descent live in Rockland, locals estimate the Haitian-American population to be well over 30,000.
Help also came from Catholic Medical Mission Council, which provided more than $150,000 worth of drugs and medical equipment. The international non-governmental organization has focused for more than a century on fighting hunger and improving the health of women and children in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The CMMB turns 110 this year,” said Glenn Erickson, a specialist in Healing Help Placement, CMMB’s medical donation program. “We were founded by a doctor based in New York and the first mission they did was in Haiti.”
Konbit has been around for 35 years, and Rockland County Haiti Relief was founded in 2008. But this was the first time that CMMB and Haitian relief organizations based in Rockland had teamed up.
Erickson said the relationship began after a staff member read a article on lohud.com on plans to send the refurbished Winnebago to Haiti.
While major government and nongovernmental organization programs tend to focus on the spread of communicable diseases, such as the current cholera outbreak in Haiti, Erickson said there is a great need for the kind of treatment medical that the mobile clinic now provides.
Erickson said Rockland County Haiti Relief’s approach could evolve quickly to meet a gaping need.
“We always kind of try to support the smaller grassroots organizations, because those are the ones that could do some interesting things, that can have grassroots ties,” Erickson said. That’s exactly what Rockland County Haiti Relief is doing with its mobile clinic, he said. “I think they’re just at the start of what they’re going to be.”
Amid intra-country turmoil, local connections are key.
Being able to work with the Haitian government is a huge bonus. “It’s a huge challenge,” Erickson said of navigating Haiti’s political structure. “The need is huge in Haiti and for the past two years you feel like any moment you think things can’t get any worse, they’re getting worse.”
Suffering in Haiti
The mobile clinic visits areas heavily damaged when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the Tiburon Peninsula in August 2021.
Haiti remains in political and economic upheaval exacerbated by its July 2021 presidential assassination.
In October, the US State Department advised US citizens to leave Haiti immediately and authorized the departure of family members of US government employees and non-emergency US government employees. Kidnappings are widespread and violent crimes are common, the State Department reported. US personnel are prohibited from leaving the area around the embassy in Port-au-Prince after dark and cannot visit certain parts of the city without special security.
The World Food Program reported that the country was on the verge of famine. The cholera epidemic was confirmed in October, with cases in Port-au-Prince and Cité Soleil.
Julien acknowledges the challenges in Haiti, but says they are all the more reason for U.S.-based organizations to step up.
“Yes, we have a lot of problems there. What are you waiting for?” says Julian. International interference and natural disasters plagued the first free black republic from the start.
Julien pointed to the latest set of US policies that are hurting Haitian nationals trying to come here and contribute to their own betterment and the US economy.
“Rockland County Haiti Relief understands,” Julien said. “That’s why we make it a point to go to Haiti and bring relief.”
Julien said Rockland County Haiti Relief is not happy with what has been achieved. “If you’re an American doctor who would love to go to Haiti and help those less fortunate, if you’re a medical student, we’ve got you covered,” Julien said. “We have this beautiful clinic, we have a beautiful guest house. If you are a hospital and you have doctors or nurses to go to Haiti for a week or two, Call us please.”
Nancy Cutler writes at People & Policy. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.
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