Diaspora

Haiti health care crisis gets help from Rockland County mobile clinic – The Journal News

Hundreds of people in Haiti are getting much-needed medical care thanks to a new mobile medical clinic run by a Rockland-based organization, donated by a local medical provider and stocked with medicine and supplies by an international organization.
The small Caribbean nation, rocked by political instability and natural disaster, now faces growing health crises, including a cholera outbreak.
“On first day, we had 75 people. For second day, 125,” said Renold Julien, executive director of the nonprofit community center Konbit Neg Lakay and president of Rockland Haiti Relief, which runs and staffs the retrofitted RV.
“We see them and we give them meds,” said Julien, saying the medical director reported treating high blood pressure and diabetes the first day, performing pregnancy checkups and providing other care.
The clinic’s staff of seven are paid doctors, nurses and clerical staff who work at the clinic one week a month at different locations. The first week was spent in Grand-Goâve. The next months will include weeklong stops in Gressier, Léogâne and Petit-Goâve.
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The clinic has also received permission to treat prisoners in nearby women’s prisons along the way, a gaping need, Julien said.
People who are not in jail have a tough time getting enough to eat, Julien said. “A lot of prisoners have been dying in Grand Goâve.”
The United Nations Security Council this spring reported deaths from malnutrition in Haitian prisons.
“We are getting requests from all over the place from Haiti,” Julien said. “I received a phone call today from Cité Soleil, they would like (the clinic) to come to the area for one week.” The poverty-stricken community of about 40,000 is located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.
The Winnebago RV was donated by RefuahHealth, a network of federally qualified community health centers that serve low-income residents across New York’s Hudson Valley.
Refuah, based in New Square, has two clinics in Spring Valley and one in South Fallsburg, which is where a fleet of mobile clinics is based.
The health network serves Rockland County’s diverse community, with cultural and language competencies in Yiddish and Hebrew, Spanish and Haitian Creole.
While the county’s planning department reports more than 15,000 people of Haitian descent live in Rockland, locals estimate the Haitian-American population numbers well over 30,000.
Help also came from Catholic Medical Mission Board, which provided more than $150,000 worth of medicine and medical equipment. The international non-governmental organization has focused on alleviating hunger and improving health of women and children in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean for more than a century.
“CMMB turns 110 this year,” said Glenn Erickson, a specialist for Healing Help Placement, CMMB’s medical donations program. “We were founded by a doctor based in New York and the first mission that they took was to Haiti.”
Konbit has been around for 35 years and Rockland County Haiti Relief was founded in 2008. But this was the first time CMMB and the Rockland-based Haitian relief organizations had partnered.
Erickson said the relationship started after a staff member read an article in lohud.com about plans to send the refurbished Winnebago to Haiti.
While larger government and non-governmental organization programs tend to focus on communicable disease spread, like the current cholera outbreak in Haiti, Erickson said there’s a great need for the kind of medical treatment the mobile clinic now provides.
Erickson said Rockland County Haiti Relief’s approach could scale quickly to meet a gaping need.
“We always kind of try to support smaller grassroots organizations because those are the ones that might be doing interesting things, who may have the grassroots connections,” Erickson said. That’s just what Rockland County Haiti Relief is doing with its mobile clinic, he said. “I think they are right at the start of what they are 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 the last two years, you just feel like anytime, you think things couldn’t get worse they get worse.”
The mobile clinic visits areas heavily damaged when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Tiburon peninsula in August 2021.
Haiti remains in political and economic upheaval exacerbated by its July 2021 presidential assassination.
In October, the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens to depart Haiti immediately and authorized the departure of family members of U.S. government employees and non-emergency U.S. government employees. Kidnappings are widespread and violent crime is common, the State Department reported. U.S. 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.
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The World Food Programme has reported the country is on the verge of famine. The cholera outbreak 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 do have a lot of problems down there. What do you expect?” Julien said. International interference and natural disasters have plagued the first free Black republic from the start.
Julien pointed to the latest round of U.S. policies that damage Haitian nationals who try to come here and contribute to their own betterment and the American economy.
“The Rockland County Haiti Relief understands,” Julien said. “That’s why we make it our business to go to Haiti and give some relief.”
Julien said Rockland County Haiti Relief isn’t satisfied with what’s been achieved. “If you are an American physician who would love to go to Haiti and help, the less fortunate ones, if you are medical student, we have what it takes,” Julien said. “We have that beautiful clinic, we have a beautiful guest house. If you are a hospital and have some doctors or nurses to go to Haiti for one or two weeks, please give us a call.”
Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland
Click here for her latest stories.

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