Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, February 23, 2018

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Dr. Michael Bourque, a senior OB/GYN physician at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Harford, engages with a tiny patient, her mother and her mother’s friend during a recent medical mission trip to Haiti. (Photo submitted) 
HARTFORD – Two dedicated Hartford-area groups combined their efforts recently to better serve the health care needs of impoverished people living in Haiti. Built on rich histories of achievement and service, together the organizations hope to create exciting synergies that will multiply the impact of their efforts.

Medical Aid to Haiti Inc., known as MATH; and the International Medical Mission (IMM): Blue Team, affiliated with St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, united under the MATH umbrella last July. The larger, stronger combined organization is expected to provide more than 15,000 patient visits to Haiti residents this year.

The roots of MATH stem from a Haitian Medical Ministry established in 2002 at St. Peter Claver Parish in West Hartford. Long before the earthquake and hurricanes that focused worldwide attention on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the group was working to raise funds, collect supplies and recruit volunteers in support of medical mission trips to Haiti.

Rick Thibadeau, president of MATH, participated in one of the mission trips in 2007. Among the group of medical professionals, he was the only volunteer without medical training but was quickly acknowledged and appreciated for his organizational and logistical skills.

“At first, I felt a little out of place,” he said. “But then they started referring to me as the medical maître d’ because I was helping to organize the mobile clinics.

“You can imagine what it’s like when you pull up in a truck that represents medicine, care,” said Mr. Thibadeau. “You are just inundated.”

“After that first trip, I didn’t have any excuses for not getting involved,” he said. “A group of us came back after that trip and realized that more could be done. They eventually formed a corporation, Medical Aid to Haiti. By the end of November in 2009, just six or seven weeks before the earthquake, the Internal Revenue Service gave the corporation 501(c)(3) status, enabling it to raise funds.”

Several trips a year

For seven years, MATH supported three or four mission trips each year. During the trips, volunteers worked with a hospital in Port-au-Prince and used a hospital vehicle and employees to conduct mobile clinics in outlying areas of Port-au-Prince.

“Ultimately, we realized that what we were doing was just a Band-Aid,” said Mr. Thibadeau.

This realization led MATH to focus its efforts on establishing a way to provide ongoing access to health care services for Haitians in and around Port-au-Prince.

“The ultimate idea was to create a continually operating mobile clinic,” he said.

By 2014, this goal was realized.

“Now we are funding a fixed clinic in Port-au-Prince as well as a mobile clinic, which operates four days a week in four different locations” outside the city, said Mr. Thibadeau.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the paid staff, for both the fixed and mobile clinics, is entirely Haitian.

The IMM: Blue Team that merged with MATH also had an outstanding record of accomplishments and a commitment to the medically underserved in Haiti.

For nearly a decade, the team, led by Dr. Michael Bourque, a senior OB/GYN physician and surgeon at St. Francis Hospital, worked to provide medical services to the poorest people in Haiti. With support from the St. Francis mission program, he and hundreds of medical, surgical and dental volunteers changed thousands of lives. The group helped transform the way medical mission services are delivered by enabling communities to create and maintain sustainable health care systems.

Shortly after the devastating earthquake in 2010, the Blue Team focused its attention on Dame Marie, a small seaside community located approximately 200 miles from Port-au-Prince on the western tip of Haiti. Dr. Bourque and his team were invited to Dame Marie by lifelong resident Pierre Antoine. During its first mission trip to Dame Marie, the group restored a small operating room in a 16-bed hospital and performed 25 surgeries. It was the beginning of an important partnership with Haitians in the area.

Blue Team volunteers make four medical mission trips each year. It is the only time area residents have access to surgical care. A major goal was to develop ways to ensure continuity of services in Dame Marie.

Land donated

Mr. Antoine and his family recently donated land to build a mission house to accommodate teams of medical professionals, who during mission trips work side-by-side with Haitian medical personal to train, consult and provide technical assistance. In addition, representatives of the Blue Team obtained commitment from Haitian Minister of Health Florence Guillaume to provide ongoing support for the Dame Marie initiative.

Sister Judith Carey, former vice president of Mission Integration at St. Francis Hospital, who now chairs the MATH’s board of directors, said the ultimate goal was to have an all-Haitian staff of health care professionals available to accompany mission trips.

“That was a critical piece,” said Sister Judith.

In Dame Marie, surgical services are provided through medical mission trips, which continue to be supported by St. Francis hospital by way of contributions of surgical supplies and medications. Additional health care services including optometry and oral surgery are sometimes provided as part of mission trips as the group works toward providing a continuum of care for area residents.

Sister Judith said Dame Marie now has a dental chair and Haitian dentists to provide services that were not available before.

Besides ttheir common desire to develop sustainable health care systems, staffed by Haitians, both MATH and IMM: Blue Team were able to attract significant numbers of volunteers.

“I think that we were ultimately going about trying to achieve the same things.” said Mr. Thibadeau. He and Dr. Bourque began discussions.

“Our mission statement applied to both groups and fit very well. MATH had a corporate structure, including a board, and we had the 501(3)(c) status,” he said. “I used the expression that I felt [MATH] had an excellent chassis to support multiple endeavors in Haiti.”

The Blue Team had existing relationships with the Haitian Ministry of Health, an affiliation with a major teaching hospital and a solid reputation for safely and effectively providing surgeries in poor remote areas of Haiti.

“It made sense and there are economies of scale in doing certain things together,” said Mr. Thibadeau. “Why duplicate the efforts” for development, fundraising and regulatory and financial reporting?

“As we shape this organization we are going to build capacity and continue what we are doing; really moving toward fulfilling the goal of creating sustainable programs that support Haitians healing Haitians,” said Sister Judith.

“Our merger will give us a larger presence in Haiti,” said Dr. Bourque. “It will expand dramat-cally the number of patients we can reach, as well as the number of Haitian medical staff that we can train.”

It is “a greater good that God has now tasked us with,” he said.

For more information regarding Medical Aid to Haiti, visit: www.medicalaidtohaiti.org.