HUM Clinician Reflects on Earthquake Response, Patient Care in Haiti
Dr. Plantin, among the first cohort of emergency medicine graduates, helped lead the response
Posted on Oct 7, 2021
Following the devastating earthquake on Aug. 14, Zanmi Lasante, as Partners In Health is known locally, sent a medical team to affected areas in southern Haiti to strengthen the support for survivors. Meanwhile, at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais—about 150 miles from the epicenter of the quake—clinicians simultaneously prepared to treat patients.
Dr. Jean Jimmy Plantin, an emergency medicine physician at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais and graduate of the hospital’s medical education program, was one of those clinicians. Working around the clock, Plantin helped coordinate those efforts and prepare staff for the days and weeks ahead.
“Hospital staff, especially those in the emergency department, were eager to support the survivors in the South,” says Plantin. “Many employees wanted to go to the field, but from the moment they learned of the arrival of some survivors at HUM, they were all ready to welcome them and provide them with the necessary care.”
In addition to training staff, Plantin helped reconstruct the “space”— one of the 5 S’s (staff, stuff, space, systems, and social support) in PIH’s approach to strengthening health systems. To prepare for an overwhelmed emergency department, Plantin and his colleagues added more than 20 beds to the former local infectious diseases unit. If that wasn’t enough, they also had an option to expand, depending on the influx of patients. They anticipated that patients would have social and psychological needs too, so the psychosocial team developed a plan to accommodate all survivors.
Their instincts were right.
Shortly after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake, the beds began to fill up with patients with various traumas, including pelvis and leg fractures, chest and abdominal injuries, and burns. Patients with psychological trauma and non-traumatic injuries, such as stroke, also came in for care. And four premature newborns received treatment for respiratory stress—unrelated to the earthquake.
Using a comprehensive triage process, Plantin and the emergency department staff worked together to identify and separate the most urgent cases from those that could await consultation within a reasonable time.
The team at the hospital has since seen dozens of patients for specialized care directly related to the earthquake. Plantin was particularly touched by the story of a 48-year-old man, who was caught in a landslide and injured his tibia. He was rushed to a hospital in Jeremie, but due to the large influx of patients and lack of staff, he couldn’t be seen immediately. Luckily, he was spotted by a rescue team and taken to HUM where he underwent surgery within two hours of his arrival.
“That day,” says Plantin, “I understood that for every survivor we saw, there could be another hundred that wouldn’t be lucky enough to come to a hospital to get the appropriate care that could avoid an amputation or even death.”
Prepared to react fast, help patients
With more than a decade of experience in general medicine, Plantin notes he’s well-prepared to react during emergencies. Even before graduating in the first cohort of emergency medicine physicians from Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, he had first-hand experience working with Zanmi Lasante. In 2011, he did his social service at La Colline de Lascahobas Health Center, a medical facility in the Zanmi Lasante network, which exposed him to the the organization’s work in the Central Plateau region.
Upon completing his emergency medicine training in 2017, he continued to work in Haiti—as do 98% of graduates from the program. In 2018, he was selected to participate in Harvard University’s Humanitarian Response Intensive Course in Massachusetts. He credits all of his professional training opportunities as the reason why he was prepared to quickly react and help those in need following the earthquake.
“From the moment I heard the news of the earthquake, I wanted to be in the South to do what my training in emergency medicine has taught me so far: save as many lives as possible,” says Dr. Plantin. “However, I understood that I could also help by staying at HUM. The arrival of the first survivors was an opportunity for all of us to lend our support to those people who really needed it.”