PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Lines of people seemed to come out of nowhere as hundreds of Haitians living in the Roche au Boteaux area lined the road, waiting for the opening ceremony of the Medical Readiness Training Exercise, or MEDRETE, to be completed and the make shift medical clinic to officially open April 26.
About 30 servicemembers with the 94th Combat Support Hospital and 965th Dental Corps began the first day of the exercise at St. Josephs School. It is the first site of three to be completed over the next several weeks. The exercises are intended to provide immediate health care to patients in the Port Salut area.
“Today’s mission is part of the joint task force [mission], to provide medical care to the Haitian people that are outside Port-au-Prince and in the rural areas,” said Lt. Col. Paul Phillips III, chief medical officer, 94th Combat Support Hospital, deployed from Seagoville, Texas.
As the patients gathered outside the gates and servicemembers became anxious to get started, the opening ceremony concluded early. It was attended by the mayor of Roche au Boteaux and his party, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Uruguayan nurses and doctors assisting in the exercise, and U.S. servicemembers.
“I’m grateful that they are helping us,” said Emanuel Claude, mayor of Roche au Boteaux. “I’m very happy that the Americans are here. I hope they will help with the rise in population and treating the sick.”
Claude also said he was honored to have the joint task force offering medical care to his town and could not express enough gratitude toward the servicemembers.
Canadian Maj. Brian Roach, civil affairs, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, attended to determine what ways his organization could assist with aftercare support following this and future MEDRETEs.
MINUSTAH is looking at the next step and seeing what’s possible in the future, Roach said. They want to look into expanding coordination with non-governmental organizations and the government of Haiti.
Roach attended the first day of the exercises to see how the process went. He said the goal is to attend all the exercises to gather as much information to possibly build upon the program.
Lt. Col. Clara Moses, MEDRETE officer in charge, 94th Combat Support Hospital, deployed from Seagoville, Texas, spent some time before the ceremony to explain the first day and what was going to be offered to the Haitians.
“We’re going to be providing level one, basic primary care, for the populace at Roche au Boteaux,” Moses said.
Empty schools rooms were transformed into doctor offices, a dental station, a reception area and a pharmacy. Each medical station, except for the reception, had one doctor and several nurses on hand.
“This is the first time many of us have seen the facility that we’re [working] at,” Phillips said. “There’s no air condition; there’s no electricity; there’s no lights. So we’re having to work with what we have. It’s a little austere.”
Sgt. Aronzo Charley, dental technician, 965th Dental Corps, deployed from Seagoville, Texas, assisted in the dental station and in dental extractions.
“We’re looking at instant care today, through initial exams and what they need now,” Charley said.
Sgt. Tammy Turner, a patient administrator with the 94th Combat Support Hospital, deployed from Seagoville,Texas, was the first stop patients made. Turner was tasked with signing in each patient and giving them a number. She then directed where the patients should go next.
“If they have a headache, I send them to a doctor,” Turner said. “If they are pregnant or just had a child, I’m going to send them to OB/GYN.”
From the moment servicemembers were on site, there were people waiting to be seen.
“When we first came to the site [this morning], there was already about a line of 50 people before we even started setting up,” Phillips said.
With the line wrapped around the building and down the street, the doctors, nurses and all those assisting anticipated 400 to 500 patients in their eight-hour work day. As the first patient stepped up to Turner’s desk, operations were ready to run at full steam.