Monday, June 28, 2010

MEP in Haiti

I was incredibly proud of what MEP did as a company to support Mark Hayward, a physician's assistant, in his work in Haiti after the earthquake. Like so many of us, I was devastated by what was going on there and wanted to do more than just send a check, but had no idea what I could do. Mark, with the support of MEP, put himself on the front lines.

In my prior Luddite days, the link to Mark's blog was my one and only posting on Facebook. I had no idea that Thai had been interviewed for an article about Mark's trip to Haiti by and only stumbled across his comments while looking for his blog postings. I've bolded that section of the article, but the entire story is an inspiring example of how one person can make a difference.

The devastating earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 12, was more than a news story for Mark Hayward. He saw the images on TV and immediately recognized places he had been, streets he has walked and thought of people he knew.

Hayward, an emergency medicine physician assistant at St. Mary's Hospital, worked in Haiti as a medical officer for a team of United States law enforcement personnel for three months in 2009.
"It was very personal," he said by phone this week from his home in King George, Va.
"I got a text message from a friend driving to work that night and got updates throughout my shift," he said. "It was evident very early on that it was a huge disaster."

Hayward was familiar with the poor infrastructure in the country and could only imagine the damage. The next day, he was in constant communication with as many friends as possible, and glued to the TV screen. At about 3 a.m., after not being able to sleep, he decided he had to do something.

He contacted major aid organizations, the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, to offer his assistance. He explained his medical background, including time as a Special Forces medic with the U.S. Army. He told them he had worked in Haiti and was willing to deploy to help. The response was not encouraging.

"They said, ‘Thanks, but we have it under control, just send a donation,'" Hayward said. "At the same time I'm talking to guys on ground, and I asked them what they saw in terms of need. I was told it was total chaos."

Hayward even contacted his former employer from his work in Haiti, who welcomed his help, but told him to wait until they could figure out terms of a contract for their services.
Hayward couldn't wait anymore. With the support of Medical Emergency Professionals, his current employer which staffs St. Mary's Hospital's emergency room, and hospital Vice President Mark Boucot, he was preparing to leave for Haiti. He bought a ticket to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with his own funds and got the go-head to take off.

MEP completely supported his efforts and continued to pay his salary while co-workers covered his shifts.

"How could we not? I think our whole organization had been seeing what was going on and just feeling sick at the very thought. [Emergency room] departments are very team oriented and have to be staffed 24 hours a day, so if someone leaves someone else has to cover," said Dr. Thai McGreivy, a managing partner with MEP, which is based in Germantown. "All of us wanted to do something. So we all stood behind one, and he served as a representative down there for us."

Hayward loaded a large suitcase with wound and traumatic injury supplies donated by St. Mary's Hospital. He packed another bag with supplies donated by Harder and Harder Associates, a Virginia-based company which makes specialized combat medical kits. He took another bag of personal gear and left for Santo Domingo on Jan. 16.

He had no specific plans for what he would do when he got there. On a shuttle bus to a connecting flight in Philadelphia, Hayward met Will McNulty and realized they were both headed to Santo Domingo to provide disaster relief in Haiti. McNulty was part of Team Rubicon, a grassroots team of volunteers, which welcomed Hayward's assistance.

When they arrived in Santo Domingo, he met the rest of the team, which included a former Marine intelligence officer, a Marine sniper, two firefighters, two doctors and a Jesuit monk. Team Rubicon, founded by McNulty, fellow former Marine Jake Wood and Milwaukee firefighter Jeff Lang, was formed through social networking and casual meetings. They quickly raised more than $200,000 and traveled to Port-au-Prince to provide medical services.

Wood described the team to Catholic Online as "an incredible success story that began with two phone calls and a Facebook post. It has grown into a model for disaster relief that must be paid attention to. All but two of the original eight members had never met in person before, yet the team was able to cross into Haiti and save thousands of lives because they acted."

On Sunday morning, Jan. 17, the team made the long drive into Port-au-Prince. They set up shop at a Jesuit monastery Sunday night, and immediately started to see patients. The following day, they went into the southeast part of the city.

"It was kind of like going to hell," Hayward said. "We went to an impromptu refugee camp inside the city near a Jesuit school. All we knew was there were about 900 people in the camp who hadn't received any medical attention."

Hayward's first patient was an 18-year-old boy whose fingers were smashed by falling cinderblocks. Gangrene had set in. Their job was to clean it up as best they could, then find a hospital where the hand could be amputated.

"The whole day went like that," Hayward said. "We saw from 200 to 300 patients that Monday. Probably 100 had wounds like that one. Probably another 100 had significant fractures that hadn't been treated for close to a week. I had never seen anything like that in my entire life. The utter lack of the most basic medical care for these people blew me away."

As the days went on, the team provided first-response medical care to hundreds of patients at numerous locations. They also assisted with medical procedures at a general hospital with other volunteer medical teams. Some of the work involved providing first-aid care and prepping wounds for further treatment, but Hayward said there were some cases that he never expected to be involved in as a physician's assistant.

"I was saying ‘What the hell has gone wrong that I'm taking care of this kind of wound?'" he said. "If I was back in the States, I wouldn't have touched any of this kind of stuff. Frequently down there, I would say ‘If we don't do this, it's not going to be done, so we're going to the best we can.'"

Hayward spent more than 10 days working in Haiti and said he would not hesitate to do it again. His only regret was that he couldn't get there sooner.

"One of the big reasons we're doing this interview is to make sure folks in Southern Maryland know of all the good stuff done behind the scenes by folks in Southern Maryland to help out," he said. "The other reason we're talking is because I believe very strongly that if something like this happens again probably what we'll see in the news and hear from big aid organizations is probably going to be the same … There's a critical gap between when something like this happens and when big aid organizations are able to get their teams together to make something happen. That's where the need is for small volunteer groups."

Hayward said it was hard to leave Port-au-Prince knowing there was more assistance needed. However, by that time additional medical response teams, many much larger than their team, had arrived.

"It was [hard], but it was time to go," he said. "It was time for us to get out of the way and let them do their work."

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