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Cooper team in Dominican Republic faces chaotic process

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

A group of health care professionals from Cooper University Hospital in Camden began treating earthquake victims from their outpost on the Dominican Republic/Haiti border.

The doctors, nurses and technicians have run into some roadblocks trying to navigate a disorganized relief effort.


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After three days in the Dominican Republic third year resident Angie Dickson was getting impatient. But on Wednesday she finally got to help an orthopedic surgeon treat fractures. Still the public hospital where she worked seemed overwhelmed with patients suffering from open wounds lying on the floors and in hallways.

Dickson: It seems like they have plenty of doctors, they don’t have enough supplies and they don’t have enough organization to say well pick up a patient here. We don’t know who’s been seen, what’s been done, it’s a little frustrating.

Pointing to one of her colleagues in an examining room, she says the group is eager to do whatever they can.


Dickson: That’s our fellow who was excited to remove some sutures, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before.”

Outside in the hallway, one woman lay on a thin mattress on the floor, screaming as doctors attended to her wounded foot.


The woman says she was just walking down the street when a wall collapsed on top of her. Like many arriving so long after their injuries occurred, she will likely lose the foot to amputation.

Meanwhile, an emergency room doctor tried to find out from another physician at the hospital, what was needed.

Doctor: “tiene material?…Si…espanol”

Kevin Capritti is a trauma nurse from Cooper.

Capritti: We’re getting mixed reports of what they need when they need it, its hard to organize in this situation but it seems like there is no organization right now which is making our job more difficult.

Across town, pediatrician Nicolas Erbrich started attending to children, one, just three months old.


Erbrich: its already healing, whatever it was its healing, it looks like it was just puss discharge.”

Erbrich also took a look at a five day old, whose mother was on the 5th floor of a building when it collapse, just days before she gave birth.

Erbrich: Just from the overall quick assessment, looks O.K. for now but like I say you know, they can look good one day, and then it turns around real quick. Children have real capacity to withstand insult, but it can turn around on a dime rather than with adults you can see it coming.

Across town, some doctors worked at the Good Samaritan hospital. It’s a newly built two-story facility that had just been staffed with workers and supplies in order to treat the Haitians. Doctors in the group felt more confident treating patients here, where they met clear organization and coordination for the first time on their trip.  Still, coffins were loaded into the back door yesterday afternoon. Doctors agreed some patients just aren’t going to make it. Father Bill Johnson is a Jesuit priest from Creighton University who provided pastoral care to a woman whose husband had died.

Johnson: But he had other problems too Most people don’t live through that but he died on the table. And his beautiful young wife was there and I was trying to console her, but what touched her was that a Haitian woman came by and started singing and that calmed her down.

Some of the Cooper doctors worked the overnight shift at Good Samaritan. Today, they’ll wake up to more patients. In the Dominican Republic.

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