Cost Dispute Halts Airlift of Injured Haiti Quake Victims
By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: January 29, 2010
MIAMI — The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday.
The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care.
Hospitals in Florida have treated more than 500 earthquake victims so far, the military said, including an infant who was pulled out of the rubble with a fractured skull and ribs. Other states have taken patients, too, and those flights have been suspended as well, the officials said.
The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine that had been evacuating about two dozen patients a day.
“People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,” Dr. Green said.
It was not clear on Friday who exactly was responsible for the interruption of flights, or the chain of events that led to the decision. Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Mr. Crist, said the governor’s request for federal help might have caused “confusion.” …
The expenditure comes at a time when the state is suffering economically and Mr. Crist, a Republican, is locked in a tough primary battle for the Senate seat that had been held by Mel Martinez. …
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the decision to suspend the flights was made by the military, not the federal health department. …
Some of the patients being airlifted from Haiti are American citizens and some are insured or eligible for insurance. But Haitians who are not legal residents of the United States can qualify for Medicaid only if they are given so-called humanitarian parole — in which someone is allowed into the United States temporarily because of an emergency — by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Only 34 people have been given humanitarian parole for medical reasons, said Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. …
In the aftermath of the earthquake, Haitian medical facilities were quickly overwhelmed. Since then, medical help has come in the form of mobile hospitals and other aid. Major Lowe said that as medical care had become available in Haiti, the need for the flights had declined significantly. But Dr. Green and nonprofit groups with a presence in Haiti said the need for evacuations remained dire.
“Right now we have in the queue dozens of paraplegics, burn victims and other patients that need to be evacuated,” Dr. Green said. “And other facilities are asking us to coordinate the evacuation of their patients.”
A spokeswoman for Partners in Health, a Boston charity with doctors and nurses in Haiti, said the group had a backlog of patients, many with head, spine or pelvic injuries, who needed surgery that could not be performed there.
Major Lowe said patients could still be evacuated in private planes, but Dr. Green said medically equipped planes were very expensive and generally could carry only one or two patients.
Sociologist and economist, Camille Chalmers is the director of the Haitian Platform advocating alternative development. He discusses the present geopolitical context in the Caribbean: here.
Haitian community organisations have united to demand an “end to the militarisation of aid” and plead for international solidarity brigades to help the country’s reconstruction: here.