This week – two months before the second anniversary of Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake – the vision of a dignified and productive life for Haitians living with disabilities reached a major milestone as construction began on the Center for Rehabilitation and Excellence in St. Marc.

When it opens next year, the 6,700-square-foot facility will transform immediate and long-term delivery of rehabilitation services in central Haiti while dignifying and normalizing the daily lives of people living with disabilities. 

The center will establish new national standards for rehabilitative care in a country where 10 percent of the population has some form of disability, a figure that increased dramatically following the quake. It will also house a program to train rehabilitation technicians, serving as a model of disability-centered design, construction, education, and services within the public sector.

“For me the most powerful aspect of the Center for Rehabilitation and Excellence is the dignity it will create for people in Haiti,” said Koji Nakashima MD, Director of Rehabilitation Services for Partners In Health. “The ability to move freely – or to simply bathe when you choose – is incredibly empowering.”

The pro bono project is a collaborative effort that brings together the expertise and vision of Partners In Health, Partners HealthCare, Shepley Bulfinch, MASS Design Group, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, working closely with senior Haitian officials. 

A gymnasium for physical therapy is the facility’s centerpiece. An integrated ramp wraps the building on three sides, making patients’ rehabilitation progress visible to one another while providing access to offices and training facilities on the second floor. A culturally appropriate simulated home environment incorporates local cooking and bathing practices. The building is designed to be earthquake and hurricane resistant. MASS Design Group is overseeing construction of the center, which was designed by Shepley Bulfinch architects.

The center will also focus on educating and training a cohort of locally based Haitian paraprofessionals to work with the population with disabilities. While construction is underway, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston, under the direction of Dr. Andree LeRoy, is developing a nine-month program with a curriculum that builds on materials developed by Health Volunteers Overseas. These training programs will be an ongoing part of the center's mission.

Plans for the Center for Rehabilitation and Excellence were announced by Partners In Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer at an event in Boston in June 2011. At that event, Dr. Farmer called the project the “fruit of the partnership model” from which Partners In Health takes its name.

The Center is scheduled for completion in late April 2012.