By Andrew Johnston
This past week, old but sturdy solid oak pews were installed in the waiting room of PIH's National Teaching Hospital at Mirebalais. The pews, which will soon support Haiti's sick while they wait to receive world-class health care, were salvaged from Saint Cecilia, a venerable Roman Catholic Church in downtown Boston.
The 60-year-old pews were slated to be removed from the church and demolished during a recent renovation. Brian Scott, an employee of Shawmut, the Boston-based construction company directing construction of Haiti's newest hospital, saw an opportunity. He knew from the Mirebalais Hospital plans that a large number of benches were needed, so he notified Jim Ansara, the founder of Shawmut, that there were pews that could be re-used as benches in the patient waiting rooms.
“I know that your plans calls for a bunch of waiting benches, would you like to use these?” asked Brian, who is now based in Haiti and working as the Site Supervisor at Mirebalais Hospital.
Father John Unni of Saint Cecilia, a longtime Haiti advocate, supported the idea from the start.
Jim immediately said “Yes!” and found funds to pay local carpenters to disassemble the benches. Due to the large amount of patient seating in the hospital, procuring all new benches would have been prohibitively expensive. To avoid interfering with the renovation schedule, the carpenters arrived on a Saturday in January 2011 and worked for 20 hours straight to complete the job.
Shawmut employees then donated their time to help organize and pack the pews.
“On a cold day in January, Shawmut office employees and supervisors in business casual khakis and dress shirts packed up the pews and loaded them onto a truck for onward shipment to Haiti,” said Brian.
It was a labor-intensive process, and Shawmut employees Dan Bagnall, Luke Grady, Shawn Cavarallo, Andy Felix, and Chett Walsh were particularly instrumental in salvaging the pews and getting them down to Haiti.
The pews were shipped via container and arrived on-site in Mirebalais in late October. Since then, a total of 65 pews of various sizes have been re-assembled onsite by experienced volunteer carpenters from the US working closely with Haitian colleagues. So far 13 pews have been installed in the waiting area of Community Health – where children will receive malnutrition screening and vaccinations, 22 pews in the Women’s Health Outpatient waiting room for use by women seeking prenatal visits, and 21 pews for the Ambulatory Care waiting room for use by patients seeking general outpatient services.
The pews have been well received by staff and community members. Indeed, PIH emphasizes that patients should receive care in dignified, aesthetically pleasing environments, and the well-crafted pews conform to this principle.