tree on roof
A tree fell on the roof of Hopital Albert Schweitzer's COVID-19 Treatment Center, pictured here. (Photo courtesy: Hopital Albert Schweitzer)

By Sam Bojarski

Nine of Haiti’s more than 2,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases were being treated at the Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) COVID-19 Treatment Center in the central town of Deschapelles, when Mother Nature reared its head. 

In the early morning hours of June 1, high winds caused a large tree to fall on the center, one of only a handful of COVID-19 treatment sites in central Haiti. One staff nurse who was injured in the incident was treated in the hospital and later released. HAS also reported that no patients were injured. 

As of June 2, Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Population (MSPP) had recorded 2,507 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 48 deaths due to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. In addition to the nine confirmed COVID-19 cases being treated by HAS, the center was also treating four suspected cases as of the beginning of June.

“This is a huge blow as the team and staff at HAS worked so hard to remodel this building in record time to get it up and running to treat COVID-19 patients,” said Jean Marc DeMatteis, CEO of HAS, in a press release. “We will not be deterred from fulfilling our mission, however. As we cope with the challenge of COVID-19, this serves as a stark reminder that the arrival of the 2020 hurricane season may complicate response efforts all over Haiti,” he added. 

The damaged roof of the Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) COVID-19 Treatment Center. (Photo courtesy of HAS)

DeMatteis told the Haitian Times in an interview that HAS is currently in the process of preparing for hurricane season. 

“That includes tree trimming, assessing and reinforcing any vulnerabilities that we see, so that’s an annual process for us,” he said.

He also said that the dedicated COVID-19 building has the capacity to treat 40 patients, while HAS can scale up and treat 150 patients on its Deschapelles campus, if needed. 

Since Haiti recorded its first coronavirus case in mid-March, health care organizations have worked to increase capacity for treating COVID-19, in coordination with the government. Partners in Health (PIH) is one of the major health care providers in central Haiti. The organization currently operates COVID-19 treatment centers at the University Hospital in Mirebalais and in Hinche, with a total capacity of more than 30 beds. 

Elizabeth Campa, senior health and policy advisor for Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian sister organization of PIH, said her organization communicates regularly with HAS and that staff often use the latter hospital’s facilities. 

Campa said that a PIH-run COVID-19 treatment center in St. Marc, due to open later this week and located about an hour-and-a-half drive from the HAS hospital facility, will contain additional capacity ‒ about 20 beds. 

“It’s unfortunate,” Campa said about the accident at HAS, “but at the end of the day all of us will do our best to service Haitians and for the treatment of COVID, for testing and for continued health services. We will all work to get through this.” 

In addition to the COVID-19 Treatment Center, the 610-square-mile HAS campus in Deschapelles contains the only full-service hospital in Haiti’s lower Artibonite Valley, with 131 beds. 

The hospital complex provides health care to a service area of 350,000 people. Within the Artibonite region, the Hopital La Providence in Gonaives is the only other treatment facility for COVID-19, DeMatteis told the Haitian Times in an interview.

Karen Slevin, who handles development and fundraising for HAS, said the damage to the COVID-19 Treatment Center is still being assessed, although the roof will require repair. She could not immediately provide a cost estimate on the damage. The building, which was first used to treat cholera cases in 2010, has been renovated since March to accommodate COVID-19 patients. 

Slevin confirmed in a June 3 interview that HAS will still be able to treat patients at its COVID-19 Treatment Center. The overwhelming majority of HAS’s work is funded by donations. 

“For the damages, we’re going to have to look to our funders as well to help with that,” Slevin added. 

HAS accepts donations online, by mail or by phone. For more information on how to donate, click here

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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