As if there hadn’t been enough suffering, a fatal car accident occurred recently in Cooper’s Town, a tiny community on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, one of the areas pummeled by Hurricane Dorian in early September.
With a shortage of doctors on the island, it was clear to Dr. Duane Sands, minister of health for the Bahamas, that the accident amplified the island’s need for more health professionals to help the Bahamians and Haitian immigrants on the island recover from Dorian’s wrath and thrive.
Dr. Sands and four of his health care associates met with a bevy of health professionals at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine on Friday to continue discussions on beefing up health care services on Grand Abaco Island and Grand Bahama Island, the neighboring island also devastated by Dorian.
For more than eight hours, a host of officials painstakingly reviewed the intricate and complex details of bringing aid to the islands, ranging from temporary and permanent housing, medical supplies and medication, and remote telemedicine capabilities to human capital in the way of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, radiologists, builders, and experts in tracking vector-borne diseases and other ailments.
“The experience we had, which began on Sept. 1, is something I have never experienced before and something I never want to experience again,” said Dr. Sands, who received his undergraduate and medical degrees at Tufts University in Massachusetts and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
“When it comes to health care,” he said, “Bahamians look to South Florida as Mecca. I look forward to a long and productive relationship with the University of Miami.”
Hilarie Bass, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees who led a delegation to Marsh Harbour on Grand Abaco Island on Sept. 22, reiterated to Dr. Sands the University’s commitment to help our Bahamian neighbors.
The University was well represented across multiple disciplines. Attending the day-long meeting were Edward Abraham, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs and chief executive officer of UHealth; Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School of Medicine; Cindy Munro, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies; Johis Ortega, associate professor of clinical in the School of Nursing and Health Studies; Marie Guerda Nicolas, professor and psychologist in the School of Education and Human Development; Sonia Chao, research associate professor in the School of Architecture; along with a number of doctors and facilities and emergency response personnel with the Miller School of Medicine, including Barth A. Green, M.D., executive dean for global health and community service, and Elizabeth Greig, M.D., and Didi Bertrand Farmer, who moderated the meeting.
Also attending were officials with the nonprofit agency Direct Relief that is a partner with the University, and Carnival Cruise Lines, which is working to restore port and health facilities in Freeport on Grand Bahama, including Rand Memorial Hospital that was flooded by storm surge.
“This experience in the Bahamas is a test of our resolve to be relevant,” Dr. Ford told Dr. Sands. “You have our commitment for the long term.”
On Thursday evening, University of Miami President Julio Frenk welcomed Sands and his team at the medical campus, setting the stage for Friday’s gathering.
Since the University’s Sept. 22 assessment trip to Marsh Harbour, the community is in the throes of recovery: electrical power is expected to be restored next week to the Marsh Harbour Healthcare Centre, a 32,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2017 that miraculously avoided major damage during the hurricane. Cell phone service has been mostly restored, and telephone and electrical poles—snapped and leveled in the storm—are being put back in place. “That is monumental,” said Ron Bogue, assistant vice president of facilities and operations on the medical campus, who was on the island last Thursday.
Bogue and others discussed the need to put in place temporary or permanent housing near the Marsh Harbour health clinic before teams of health professionals—including 40 local professionals and another 35 to 40 UM professionals—can move in and help provide around-the-clock health care. The need to move swiftly is palpable.
“Unfortunately, on June 1, 2020, the whole nightmare starts again,” Dr. Sands said, referring to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. “If we still have people in temporary housing, we’re adding to risks and liabilities.”
Chao said a team of faculty have been looking at how shipping containers—plentiful in port communities—can be easily converted to permanent housing, at little cost. The containers can be modified to be attractive living quarters and also withstand hurricane-force winds.
Mental health care is another area of grave concern, both for Bahamians impacted by Dorian and thousands of Haitian immigrants who populated a number of islands, including low-lying areas on Great Abaco that were wiped clean by Dorian. The most vulnerable population, Dr. Sands said, are the Haitians, many of whom who have lost everything and are undocumented migrants.
Nicolas, a Haitian native, said a team of psychologists from the Caribbean Alliance of National Psychological Associations, which includes Bahamians and Haitians, is involved on the islands and providing counseling to both Bahamians and Haitians. The needs of Haitians center on trauma resulting from the hurricane and also being an immigrant and discrimination.
“Having one model of care cannot be the care for everyone,” Nicolas said.
At the end of the day, the team established next steps with regard to housing, telemedicine opportunities, and the deployment of health experts to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and the Marsh Harbour clinic, where the University of Miami’s efforts could assist in both short- and long-term help.
“Today made the path a lot clearer,” said Dr. Sands.