In 1956, Gwendolyn Grant Mellon co-founded Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti with her husband. Two years later, Hobart and William Smith Colleges honored her as the first recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award– given to a woman whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity. Today, 54 years after its founding, the Hospital Albert Schweitzer is among the hospitals that remain operational following the earthquake–and it is swelling to the rafters.
ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser visited the Hospital Albert Schweitzer this week and mentioned it in an online blog.
“On the way back to Port au Prince. Hospital Albert Schweitzer incredible. 500 patients in an 80 bed facility. Patients have traveled here to get care they couldn’t find in Port au Prince. Head trauma, multiple fractures, infected wounds. 20-30 orthopedic surgeries since sunday. Staff exhausted. Running out of pain medicine and antibiotics,” he wrote.
A story in the Altanta Journal-Constitution also features the Hospital, noting an orthopaedic team is on its way there. That story is available online.
Mellon’s life changed when she read an article in Time magazine about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a man who’d given up everything to treat thousands of Africans in dire need of health care. In 1956, she and her husband (a physician) opened the doors of the Hopital Albert Schweitzer, a 75-bed hospital serving thousands of people who previously had been without any medical care in the Artibonite River valley in Haiti. The extent of her work in Haiti included the immunization of 95 percent of children, eliminating tetanus in newborns and adults, practically eliminating measles, training 2,000 volunteers and aides, establishing six community clinics and drilling one hundred fresh water wells. Mellon is also the subject of the book “Song of Haiti,” based on the love story of Mellon and her husband Larimer.
The full text of the ABC World News piece follows.
ABC World News
Haiti Hospital: 500 Patients in an 80 Bed Facility
January 19, 2010
ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser reports from Port au Prince, Haiti:
On the road to Hospital Albert Schweitzer, 50 miles and 3 hours north of Port au Prince. I want to see what is happening at one of the closest full-service hospitals to the city. Racing thru traffic. More than a dozen water tanker trucks so far. That is a new and promising sign. Traffic is incredibly bad. Fruit for sale by the side of the road. People, people walking everywhere.
Bridge is blocked. Not safe. Need to try another route.
Found bridge and now barreling down ruddy roads. Good news is the speedometer is broken, otherwise I’d be even more nervous.
Major deforestation on the both sides. Little development. Nearing site of old Club Med. Closed for more than a decade.
On the way back to Port au Prince. Hospital Albert Schweitzer incredible. 500 patients in an 80 bed facility. Patients have traveled here to get care they couldn’t find in Port au Prince. Head trauma, multiple fractures, infected wounds. 20-30 orthopedic surgeries since sunday. Staff exhausted. Running out of pain medicine and antibiotics.
I ask the head pediatrician about the regular patients: children with malnutrition, pneumonia, typhoid fever. She doesn’t know where they are. Travel is difficult and there is little room for anything but trauma.
Ian Rawson, a gentle soul who runs the hospital, feels the suffering of the Haitian people deeply. He was raised here and has worked for 50 years on HAS going back and forth to the US. His eyes tear up as I ask him about the past week. Due to decreased philanthropy he had laid off staff the day before the earthquake. When the quake hit, many came back. He doesn’t know how he’ll pay them but he’ll find a way.
One week after the quake there is a major mismatch between the needs of patients and the availability of supplies, facilities, and trained staff. So much of the success going forward will depend on logistics: getting medical supplies flowing, getting hospitals up and running, clearing the logjam of patients needing care, and figuring out where homeless people can go to recuperate.