Haiti clinic turns 15 with bigger plans for the future

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The Visitation Hospital Foundation is ready to start construction on the long-planned surgery center at the Visitation Clinic in Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, Haiti. Photo courtesy of Alan Dooley

As it celebrates 15 years of success and 300,000 visits at its full-service outpatient clinic in Haiti, Visitation Hospital Foundation is dreaming big again – the construction of a surgical center.

The clinic, which opened in January 2008, brought much-needed healthcare to residents in and around rural Petite Riviere de Nippes, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Providing medical and dental exams, and radiology and pharmacy services in an innovative, energy-efficient facility was only part of its founder’s vision.

Years ago, VHF executive director Theresa Patterson, envisioned a full-service hospital that would serve the needs of the people of Haiti, according to Fran Rajotte Myers, who was hired by Patterson in 2002 and eventually led the capital campaign to make the clinic a reality.

“Her dream became my dream,” said Myers, now chair of the VHF board of directors. “The Lord provided and we believe that God is behind this project, because these are His people – these are the poorest of the poor in our hemisphere.”

At the Visitation Clinic, patients are treated regardless of their ability to pay. A staff of 29 administers exams, screenings, community education programs, midwife services, and vaccinations. Dealing with government unrest and natural disasters has created difficulties for staff and its administrator, Frantz Michel, but disruptions have been minor, according to Myers.

Instead of putting anything on hold, VHF is moving forward, using technology to hold online meetings, offering training, and navigating the delivery of needed supplies.

Celebrating 15 years of service at the clinic is bittersweet, because none of the people who traveled to Haiti for the opening can get there now – the risks posed by gangs, guns, and unrest, are too great, said Myers, who misses the physical connection when on the ground in Haiti.

“You have to have that (connection),” she said, noting that the VHF board now has new members who have never been to Haiti. Myers remembered taking donors and potential donors on trips there and the difference it made. “When visitors get immersed in the culture, they feel this need to help. This is what is missing for us. We pray for a time when we can safely bring new board members and prospective donors to visit our facility.”

Myers, who was honored last year for more than two decades of service to VHF at its annual gala, has been diligently gathering donations to build the surgery wing. She reported that the money is there to begin construction, but money for equipment, staffing and supplies is greatly needed. Most of the money raised comes from individual donors and family trusts, according to Myers.

A Saturday breakfast fundraiser, Hope and Healing for Haiti, is planned for 8 a.m. April 1 at Christ the King Church, where the surgery center’s architect, Alan Dooley, will share images, and journalist Demetria Kalodimos will share a Haiti video she produced on her last visit there. Those interested in attending must register with VHF by contacting Patterson at tpatterson@visitationhospital.org or (615) 673-3501.

Patterson in 1978 was the co-creator of the Parish Twinning Program of America, of which VHF is a sister organization. Both organizations have made the people of Haiti their chief concern and benefactors.

A surgical center, designed to connect with the clinic, would be a huge addition to the Petite Riviere de Nippes 10-acre campus, that also includes a guards’ quarters, storage facility, kitchen, outdoor restrooms, and fencing.

What the surgical unit would specialize in was largely answered by a regional health director in Haiti who decried that maternity care was needed most. Myers said VHF has made OB/GYN and ophthalmology its main focus.

When the clinic brought in teams to do OB/GYN screenings for women, 17 were found to have a form of uterine cancer, so VHF paid to have them sent to hospitals to be treated, and all came back cancer-free, Myers said.

Stories like that, according to Myers, have helped change the mindset between Haiti’s forms of traditional medicine, allaying fears, and setting the stage for a surgery center.

“Initially the Haitians needed to trust modern medicine,” Myers said. “But we have certainly proved that the medical care we have provided has brought healing to so many over the past 15 years – and I believe they will embrace the new surgery center as a result.”

The VHF successes in Haiti give Myers personal as well as professional fulfillment. “It warms my heart, makes me so joyful,” she said.

Myers had worked in hospital administration for 15 years but said she was yearning for something different and prayed about it. “Lord, help me find something where I can make an impact on humanity,” she remembered asking. A few weeks later she saw a classified ad that led to an interview with Patterson, who she knew from St. Henry Church.

Like so many others who pledge their time and money into helping Haitians, Myers carries a passion of caring while shouldering the responsibilities of directing these types of projects.

“It takes faith, it takes diligence, and passion to make a difference in something like this – to be the hands and the heart of God,” said Myers. “God can use that, and He has done so with many of us who developed a passion to continue to serve our Haitian brothers and sisters.” 

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