News & Events

Hub awaits Haiti’s injured

Local hospitals prepare to treat victims of quake

By David Abel, Globe Staff  |  February 2, 2010

State officials are organizing doctors and working with federal agencies and local hospitals to prepare for the arrival of Haitian earthquake victims in Massachusetts, possibly at Logan International Airport within days.

“We have made it clear that we are ready and capable to receive patients,’’ said John Auerbach, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. “But it’s a fluid situation.’’

Auerbach said the Patrick administration offered the state’s assistance shortly after the Jan. 12 earthquake and that local hospitals had expected to receive patients last week.

But federal officials suspended flights last week from Haiti to Florida, where the victims had been sent, amid a dispute over who would pay for the hundreds of victims being treated there.

After an agreement that the federal government would cover the victims’ medical expenses, the emergency medical flights resumed Sunday night, leading local officials to increase their preparations.

“We need to plan on multiple levels, meaning we’re talking to federal officials, our counterparts in Florida, local health partners, and community-based Haitian agencies,’’ Auerbach said. “We will need to deal with issues, including immigration, tracking, and transportation.’’

He said the state may only have several hours of warning before the first plane arrives, and it would not be clear until then how many patients will be aboard or where they will need to go.

He said his department has been organizing a triage team of 10 to 20 clinicians, translators, and other officials who will meet the patients at the airport, determine their needs, check for infections, help clear them through customs, and send them in ambulances to the most appropriate hospital or rehabilitation center.

“They’re not prepared to tell us the specific medical needs, other than to say that they will all have serious medical injuries,’’ Auerbach said. “They said we should be prepared in the next few days.’’

Officials at several local hospitals did not return calls for comment about their preparations.

Auerbach said he expects the first flight may include up to 30 patients. Other flights may follow shortly thereafter, depending on the need.

He said his department constantly monitors the number of available hospital beds, and there is sufficient capacity, but he declined to say how many patients local hospitals could take.

David Abel can be reached at