Monday, February 01, 2010

U.S. Resumes Medevac Flights From Haiti After Outrage By Doctors Over Suspension

White House Denies Reports That Halt in the Flights Was Due to Cost Concerns and Insists Logistical Problems Were to Blame for Their Suspension; Doctors in Haiti Had Warned ‘Hundreds’ of Severely Ill and Injured Quake Victims Would Die Unless Airlifts to U.S. for Treatment Re-Started Right Away

Injured victims of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti gather at the offices of the international doctors organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Port-au-Prince. The United States -- in a decision that outraged doctors on the scene warned could be catastrophic for Haitians in desperate need of emergency medical care unavailable in their own country due to the devastation -- halted medical evacuation flights, reportedly over concerns raised about the cost of treating quake victims in the U.S. The White House announced late Sunday that the flights would resume. (Photo: Stefano Zannini/Medecins Sans Frontieres)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, February 1, 2010)

THURSDAY EDITION OF 'SBR DISCONTINUED: Effective this week, The 'Skeeter Bites Report is no longer publishing on Thursdays. After 16 months of juggling between my full-time job (on the overnight "graveyard" shift), my Thursday-afternoon radio show (which has been on the air for more than 11 years) and the Thursday edition of The 'SBR -- which after more than four years remains a one-person operation -- I have found it necessary, for health reasons (I'll turn 57 in April), to cease Thursday publication and return The 'SBR to its original once-a-week publication schedule on Mondays, with extra editions on other days only in the event of extraordinary breaking news. I thank you for your continued support.


Confronted with a firestorm of outrage by doctors on the scene in Haiti over an unexpected suspension of emergency medical airlifts of victims of the island nation's devastating January 12 earthquake, the Obama administration announced late Sunday it will resume the flights and denied halting them over a financial dispute, insisting that logistical problems were the cause.

“Having received assurances that additional capacity exists both here and among our international partners, we determined that we can resume these critical flights,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, told reporters Sunday evening.

More than 500 severely injured Haitians had been airlifted to hospitals in Miami and other cities across Florida for emergency treatment that is unavailable in Haiti due the massive devastation to the island country's infrastructure wrought by the 7.0-magnitude quake, which may have killed as many as 200,000 people in the world's most deadly natural disaster since the 2004 Asian tsunami.

But on Saturday, in a decision that shocked and outraged medical professionals on the scene to treat quake victims, the U.S. brought a sudden halt to the Medevac flights amid reports of a dispute between the federal government and several states over who will pay for the Haitians' treatment.

The Medevac flights, conducted by the U.S. military with C-130 transport planes, were halted after Florida Governor Charlie Crist called on the federal government to bear more of the cost of treating quake victims.


Angry doctors on the scene in Haiti severely criticized the suspension of the Medevac flights, with many warning that many severely injured quake victims will die unless the flights are resumed immediately.

"People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out," said Dr. Barth Green, who is among hundreds of medical professionals from around the world in Haiti to treat the injured. "The consequences in the kids with crushed chests and on ventilators and respirators and some of the adults is that they will die" unless the airlift is resumed quickly.

Green is co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Miller School of Medicine of the University of Miami. Green told The New York Times that his organization had been evacuating to the U.S. nearly two dozen quake victims a day.

Other doctors warned that 100 critically ill patients at a temporary field hospital set up at the Port-au-Prince International Airport will die in the next few days if the Medevac flights don't resume.

Two men at the makeshift hospital afflicted with tetanus already have died waiting to be airlifted, said Dr. David Pitcher, one of 34 surgeons working feverishly at the airport hospital. A five-year-old girl, also suffering form tetanus, is also near death.

"If we can't save her by getting her out right away, we won't save her," Pitcher told National Public Radio. The girl desperately needs to be airlifted to an American hospital and placed on a respirator to save her life, Pitcher said.


The White House had issued a statement on Saturday denying that it had ordered the halt of the flights over a money dispute, insisting that the evacuations were halted by the U.S. military because of logistical problems -- specifically, that hospitals in Florida and other states were running out of space to treat quake victims.

The statement said that the administration was working to increase treatment capacity in both Haiti and the U.S., as well as aboard the Navy's hospital ship, the USS Comfort, which is docked at Port-au-Prince.

Captain Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the Pentagon's U.S. Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM, acknowledged that the decision to halt the emergency flights was made by the military. Aandahl told NPR that because "some states indicated they are unwilling to approve any more patients for this type of care, we're not doing these types of flights anymore."

Aandahl would not say which states declined to accept quake victims, but the suspension of the flights cane a day after Crist asked the federal government to help pay for their treatment.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Crist wrote that "Florida does not have the capacity to support" the transportation and treatment of "between 30 to 50 critically ill patients a day for an indefinite period of time."

Crist wrote that his state's health care system "is quickly reaching saturation, especially in the area of high-level trauma care."


But appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America Sunday," Crist said that he was "puzzled" by the suspension.

"We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and [are] happy to continue to do so," Crist said.

The governor acknowledged that his letter to Sebelius may have been "misinterpreted" and added to the confusion over the airlifts, leading to their suspension. "I think that's probably what actually did occur," he said. "That's unfortunate."

Crist asked that the federal government activate the National Disaster Medical System "to assist in distributing these critically ill medical patients to other states and to ensure states are appropriately reimbursed for their services."

In Port-au-Prince, Colonel Rick Kaiser, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, told The Associated Press on Sunday that the Corps has been asked to build a new 250-bed tent hospital in the Haitian capital to relieve pressures on the USS Comfort and on makeshift emergency treatment facilities already overwhelmed with earthquake victims.


The World Health Organization warned on Saturday that the risk of disease epidemics breaking out in Haiti is increasing as the rainy season approaches. The United Nations' health agency reported that it already has received reports of outbreaks of diarrhea, measles and tetanus.

Alarmed by severe damage to Haiti's already poorly-maintained sanitation systems that have resulted in contaminated drinking water, the WHO issued an urgent alert warning that millions of Haitians are at increased risk of other water-borne diseases, including cholera.

Paul Garwood, a WHO spokesman, told Voice of America Radio that his and other UN agencies, as well as the Haitian government, will embark on an immunization campaign this week to shield "hundreds of thousands" of children under age five against diphtheria, tetanus and measles, which "are highly contagious and can spread like wildfire."

Garwood added that there is "a critical need" for more surgeons, reporting that, to his knowledge, there are more than 2,000 amputee cases in Haiti as a result of injuries sustained in the earthquake, with "anywhere from 30 to 100" amputations performed daily -- and likely to increase.


Meanwhile, two moderate pre-dawn earthquakes struck southwestern China and northwestern Indonesia on Sunday, killing one person and injuring at least 11 others in China's Sichuan Province, the Chinese government reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in the Indonesian quake.

The temblor in Sichuan -- which was devastated by an 8.0 quake in May 2008 that killed nearly 87,000 and rendered more than five million others homeless -- struck at 5:36 a.m. local time (4:36 p.m. EST Saturday) with its epicenter near the city of Suining, the Sichuan earthquake authority said.

It measured Richter magnitude 5.0 on government seismographs in Beijing. The U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado said its seismographs measured the quake at magnitude 5.2.

The state-run China Central Television showed pictures of single-story homes that had collapsed into rubble. The network reported that dozens of homes were damaged or collapsed but did not give a precise figure.

The Indonesian quake, measuring Richter magnitude 5.3, struck the in Kepulauan Mentawai region, the USGS reported. That temblor, which struck at 2:07 a.m. local time (2:07 p.m. EST Saturday), was centered 460 miles west-northwest of the capital, Jakarta.

Sunday's quake came just over a month after two other moderate temblors struck North Sulawesi province in eastern Indonesia on December 28, measuring Richter magnitude 5.2 and 5.3.

None of the quakes were strong enough to trigger tsunami warnings.

# # #

Volume V, Number 9
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. all rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content