Thursday, April 15, 2010

Volunteer Engineers Help HOPE in Haiti

Five engineers joined Project HOPE to help assess the structural and workflow issues of several Haitian hospitals with which Project HOPE works-- including Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Deschappelles and Hôpital Sacré Coeur (HSC) in Milot. Following is a post by Walt Vernon, CEO of M+NLB (Mazzetti, Nash, Lipsey and Burch, a consulting and design firm focused on the engineered systems of buildings) about the team's visit to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer.

John Pappas, a Principal Mechanical Engineer with M+NLB, and I travelled together. There are five us on this team, plus one representative of Project HOPE. Mike Olson is a Medical Planner with The Innova Group, we are joined by a Medical Equipment Planner from the US Army, Terry Dover, and Eric MacFarlane, a structural engineer from Dekker/Perich/Sabatini in Albuquerque.

Some observations… First, HAS is like a small, self-contained city. When we drove up, it was about 9pm and quite dark. All around us, we passed through numerous houses and little villages. There were maybe a half dozen lights we saw on the entire trip. But, about half an hour before we arrived at the hospital, we saw this blaze of light up on a mountain. It turned out that this was the hospital; the only source of electricity and clean water for miles and miles and miles.

They rely heavily on day light. In fact, in many ways, this is kind of like the perfect green hospital—self-provided water (from a continuously refilled aquifer, daylight, natural ventilation). This is such an elemental place and an elemental way of life, that the facility is sort of the poster child for being a green building icon.

The hospital generates its own power using a diesel generator. It has four generators, including two new ones rated at 410 kW. They run one generator at a time every 12 hours. They are really concerned because it is very expensive to get fuel for the generators; the tanker trucks have to traverse this arduous four-hour journey from Port-au-Prince. Right now, they are able to get fuel from Venezuela at a fairly low price. But, they operate on such a thin margin that they are constantly looking for ways to reduce their fuel consumption.

HAS has approximately seven circuits that serve buildings other than the hospital. These are 480 volt circuits, and go for hundreds of feet. The problem with these feeders is that the rest of the community that surrounds the hospital has no electricity. And, there are trees that grow up next to the power lines. So, the people hire children to climb the trees, and cut into the insulation. If they survive, they thread a bare wire around the bare part of the feeder and pull it into the tree. From there, it goes down, and eventually to the inside of a house, where they wrap it around a coil and create a transformer to provide their home with a little bit of usable electricity. HAS dislikes this for at least two reasons. First, it is causing injuries to the kids in the community they serve. Second, it creates a constant leakage of power and this costs them money.

This hospital provides the most remarkable kind of services imaginable under very difficult circumstances. They make use of every possible resource, and they do it with skill and patience and courage. We were so impressed with the people we met, and with what they were able to accomplish with what resources they have available. They have a sliding scale of payment—people from the surrounding area pay almost nothing for services, and people from farther pay a little more. But, they don’t turn anyone away. It puts into perspective the things that we expect and that we obsess over in our facilities in the states. In some ways, it makes me think we worry a lot about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—compared to what they people here are doing.

At the end of the day, I hope that we were able to provide these folks with something that can help them do their job a little bit better and take better care of a few more people.

Photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

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