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Scripps Health CEO Talks About Organization’s Medical Mission To Haiti

Audio

Aired 2/5/10

A 10-person team from San Diego is back home after a medical trip to Haiti. The president and C-E-O of Scripps Health tells us how the crew prepared for conditions in Port-au-Prince.

A 10-person team from San Diego is back home after a weeklong medical mission to Haiti.

DWANE BROWN: Joining us on Morning Edition is Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health. Chris, your staff served at a hospital about a mile from the earthquake's epicenter. What were conditions like?

CHRIS VAN GORDER: Well, that's correct, we served the Saint Francois de Salle hospital, it's normally probably about a 200-bed hospital, but we actually had half the hospital that had collapsed, killing probably about 50 to 100 individuals. I know -- we know, for a fact, there were 25 babies, their parents and staff members that were killed in the collapse, and the bodies are still there. They have not been recovered, so all the patients have been outside, under some tents and canopies. Nobody's inside, the only thing that's taking place inside is the surgeries that we were conducting.

PAMELA DAVIS: Could anything have prepared you for what you saw in Haiti?

VAN GORDER: Well, you know, we took our Scripps medical response team down to Katrina, and we have disaster experience, but I have to tell you that this is many times worse than what we saw in Katrina. Over 200,000 dead, many of the individuals in the collapsed buildings are still in those buildings. The smell is horrendous. By the time we got down there most of the injuries were extremity injuries due to individuals being trapped under walls and buildings for an extended period of time. Lots of amputations, of course we did everything we could to save limbs, that's the reason we ended up taking one orthopedic surgeon, two trauma surgeons, two anesthesiologists, our critical care nurses and a logistics team to be able to support it. It was very rewarding, we bring lessons back to San Diego, in terms of the injuries, it's certainly a humanitarian mission, but we learned a lot as well.

BROWN: Talk about some of the challenges you faced with the lack of water and power there.

VAN GORDER: Well, it's one of those situations where you have to adjust very quickly, certainly in terms of trying to operate in sterile environments. Our scrub sink was a tap outside with a bucket underneath it initially. We had one autoclave sterilizer working, so it was very slow in terms of getting surgical instruments sterilized. We had to interface with some of the Haitian physicians, and some of the Haitian nurses, and over time we culturally were able to come together and work very well together. And again, dealing with patients that were outside. I mean, to be honest with you, lots of flies, lots of mosquitoes, even in the operating room. But I can tell you, the patients were much, much better off with us there, using the techniques we were able to bring in, and some supplies and equipment we were able to bring in, than they were before we got there.

DAVIS: Chris, how much more is there to do? Are you guys planning to go back?

VAN GORDER: We will. I spent a total of 10 days and two trips there. A majority of our initial team is coming back this evening. We will go back will smaller teams. The conditions are going to change -- initially, there were a lot of major injuries, torso injuries, head injuries. Those patients are either surviving now, or dead, so now it's the extremity issues. We're going to need plastic surgeons as we go forward, individuals with prosthesis experience and expertise, certainly for a long time wound management is going to be a significant issue. So we're going to bring different teams back in over an extended period of time. Much smaller teams, probably four-to-five person teams, to help out, and again, bring lessons back to San Diego, but help a humanitarian mission. And those people really truly need our assistance.

DAVIS: And I'm sure they're grateful to have you there. Chris Van Gorder, president, CEO of Scripps Health. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

VAN GORDER: Thank you.

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