Note: While serving a medical mission to Haiti, Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder is writing dispatches about medical aid in progress, conditions on the ground and what can be done to help earthquake victims. For other journal entries, see the Haiti news page.
Dr. Brent Eastman and I completed our first mission to Haiti today and we are on our way home now as I write this note.
We had traveled to Haiti with the intent of obtaining first hand information on the need for medical personnel and medical relief efforts. As you know, there have been some media reports stating that there are too many doctors now, followed by another report indicating great need. We have heard many conflicting reports, so we felt we needed to go ourselves to verify need, to make sure it is reasonably safe for our teams and to find out if there was any kind of infrastructure to support our people in terms of housing, transportation and security.
Well, Brent and I believe our mission was a success. We were able to take care of survivors ourselves in a hospital that was virtually destroyed. We made contact with an individual who will help our people with transportation and housing when they deploy in the future. We made contact with a hospital and hospital leadership who invited Scripps back to help them. And, we verified that while the situation in Haiti is very grave, it is reasonably safe now as the Haitians are trying to get their lives going again.
When we left from the Port-au-Prince International Airport (currently operated by the U.S. Air Force), we saw many countries on the ground and in the air helping to bring in supplies: the United States, France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Cuba, Russia, Canada, Israel, and Brazil. We know there were several more we did not see, including Korea, Japan and China.
While at the airport, we found a chief medical officer from a hospital in Denver. She had caught a ride on a U.S. Coast Guard plane but, now that she had arrived, she was stuck at the airport and did not know where to go in Haiti or how to get there. We saw others walking around trying to find someone to fly them home. There are no commercial flights yet so unless you have arranged flights with someone authorized to fly into Haiti, you are stuck.
When Mr. John Bardis’ (MedAssets CEO) plane arrived, it did so with a physician from Ochsner in New Orleans. The young physician brought a plane load of supplies for the Haitian community where he had been born and raised. He wanted to meet me — as I did him — and we spoke for a short time, constantly interrupted by the sound of aircraft on the move in and out of the airport.
He told me that the community where he was raised was badly damaged and that many had died. He emotionally told me that the church and school where he received his early education was gone. He had come home to help. But he also wanted to thank me and all of us at Scripps for coming to help Haiti. He said it made sense for him to come and do what he could do, but he was particularly thankful for organizations like Scripps and MedAssets coming to help even when we did not have family or other reasons to come to the rescue.
I thought about that conversation all the way home today. I, too, am grateful: for a board of trustees, physicians and an organization that does not question why we would travel so far away to help people we don’t even know. I am grateful for supportive leaders and companies like John Bardis and MedAssets, and those companies who support them by giving us means of transportation, supplies and equipment to use in the rescue mission. I am grateful for the thousand or more Scripps physicians and team members who immediately answered the call for help. While we will not be able to take all, it is wonderful to know we have people of this caliber in our organization.
I’m particularly thankful for the physicians and staff who stay at home, caring for our patients and organization while we go away to help others we don’t even know. I’m thankful for my family, who support the crazy things I do, and I’m thankful to the people of Haiti who stood side-by-side with us while we worked together to help those in need. In many cases, we could not even speak to each other with any understanding — but we did not need to. We were all on a mission together, to help those who needed us.
My friends and colleagues, our trip was short, but valuable. We will be going back and it will be soon. But now we know where we will work and who we will work with. We know that we will have secure places to sleep and transportation to and from the hospital where we’ll be working.
We now have a mission.
As Brent and I traveled today with our rescue gear in hand, several people asked us where we were coming from or going to. When we told them, they would immediately tell others. I could hear them whisper “those Scripps people are coming from helping in Haiti," always followed by a “thank you for your service.”
It’s always good to come home — to the United States, to California, to San Diego and to Scripps. But after my experience in Haiti — after witnessing the death and suffering — I come home really appreciating what I have, and what we have together.
Thanks for your support.
See the Haiti news page for other journal entries.