Returning to Haiti to Open a Center for Health

Editor’s note: Dinah Waldsmith Dittman is national director for community engagement and philantrophy at Kaiser Permanente. She and Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president for community benefit, health policy and research, are traveling to Haiti for the opening a new Ministry of Public Health and Population building in Port-au=Prince. This blog was created from “Dispatches From Haiti,” a relief blog created in January 2010 to share updates by Kaiser Permanente caregivers who served in Haiti in the chaotic weeks and months following the devastating earthquake there.

Saturday, Feb. 23

Today is the start of our trip to Haiti, which has been three years in the making.

The two of us representing Kaiser Permanente — Ray Baxter,  SVP of community benefit, health policy and research, and I — travel as far as Miami today. Tomorrow, we will be connecting with the rest of the Haiti delegation, then traveling to Port-au-Prince in the afternoon for two days of meetings and site visits – and, finally, a ribbon-cutting!

We are going to meet the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) in Haiti and its leader, Florence Guillaume, MD, and see the new headquarters building that was constructed as a replacement for the one destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. Kaiser Permanente provided the funding for the new building, through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation and an innovative and humanitarian-minded engineering and construction company, Proteus.

This is truly a story of partnerships, patience, tenacity, determination, and diplomacy. Immediately after the earthquake, the MSPP leadership and staff were scattered across Port-au-Prince, doing the best they could to operate the country’s public health system with no telephones, electricity, computers or supplies. Almost all disaster recovery and rebuilding has its challenges, and Haiti has been no exception. The country’s fragile infrastructure, poverty, political unrest, and overwhelmed local coordinating agencies make it difficult to make progress. Several times, this project has had two steps forward and one step back. Nevertheless, we have all hung in there, determined to give the Haitian people a permanent home for their public health agency.

Dr. Guillaume and her team have been working in several temporary trailers (“portables”) and giving input to the CDC Foundation and Proteus as to what they need and want for long-term space from which to operate. The new building is functional and modular….and earthquake and hurricane proof!  We can hardly wait to see it, and to greet our Haitian colleagues with a warm, “Bonjour! Kijan ou ye?”, or “Hello! How are you?”

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