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In Haiti, a Jewel Rises From the Rubble

By John Rivera

In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Catholics in the United States responded with unprecedented generosity. Since then, Catholic Relief Services has made it a priority to keep you up to date on how your gifts are making it possible for our Haitian brothers and sisters to rebuild their lives.

Following the earthquake, CRS worked with medical teams to treat people at the nearly destroyed hospital

Outside of St. François de Sales Hospital in Haiti, patients await surgical procedures. Following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake there in 2010, CRS worked with medical teams to treat people at the facility, 80 percent of which was destroyed. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Now you have the opportunity to watch as the jewel of your efforts rises from the rubble of St. François de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Ground will be broken soon on what will be a state-of-the-art university teaching hospital that will benefit Haitians and the nation's health care system for generations to come.

The story of St. François de Sales is one of a hospital that refused to die. It is the oldest and most respected hospital in Port-au-Prince, known for its service to poor people. The earthquake destroyed about 80 percent of the facility, including its maternity, pediatric and general inpatient wards. It killed 140 of the hospital's staff and patients.

Still, St. François went on, continuing to treat patients with critical crush injuries. Surgeons recruited from Europe and the United States, particularly from the University of Maryland's R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, operated in what was left of the building. Patient wards erected in the courtyard were covered at first with tarps and later with tents.

From Rubble to State of the Art

After the initial emergency phase of the earthquake response, CRS made plans to build a new St. François de Sales—inside and out. First, workers had to remove 11,770 cubic yards of rubble. Hospital operations were temporarily moved to another site, where MASH unit-style tents housed hospital staff and patients.

Architect's rendering of plans for the new hospital

An architect's rendering shows the plans for St. François de Sales Hospital, which CRS is helping to rebuild. Illustration courtesy of CRS Haiti

CRS also embarked on an ambitious strategy to create a sophisticated, comprehensive training program for medical professionals. The Institutional Strengthening program is a partnership involving CRS, the University of Notre Dame of Haiti, St. François de Sales Hospital, the University of Maryland School of Nursing and the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Institute of Human Virology. This partnership will transform the ways in which physicians and other medical professionals are trained for the next generation.

CRS is committed to completely rebuilding St. François de Sales. Rising from the ruins will be a new 200-bed facility open 24 hours a day. Priority areas include pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, surgery, orthopedics, and outpatient and emergency clinics. CRS will also build in ambulance transportation, laboratory services, pharmacy, medical imaging, health information services, community health activities, morgue, security, laundry, kitchen and other key maintenance facilities. A new chapel will grace the hospital grounds.

Dr. Herby Derenoncourt is a Haitian physician and CRS staff member assigned to support the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince and St. François de Sales Hospital's board of directors during reconstruction and to develop the management and economic operations planning for the new hospital. The goal, he says, is to improve the entire Haitian health care system.

"This project at St. François de Sales is not only about what we're doing today, it's also about creating a model for providing quality care to the poor that we can use around the country, in the north and south," he says. "If this works in a country where the health care system is failing, it will become a model."

The new St. François de Sales Hospital will take about 2 years to build. Completion is expected in early 2014.

John Rivera is CRS' communications director. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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