January 22, 2010

To the University Community:

All our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of last week’s quake in Haiti, especially for those students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of our extended UM community who have lost loved ones or who still have not heard from their families and friends in Haiti.

The University of Miami community has mobilized to help those in Haiti. From raising more than $3.76 million to support the University’s relief efforts in Haiti to student-led grassroots initiatives, community outreach by our faculty and staff, and projects launched by our alumni, there has been a generous outpouring of support that grows every day.

Led by Dr. Barth Green, chair and professor of neurological surgery, our immediate response efforts have focused on our team of Miller School of Medicine experts who arrived in Haiti less than 24 hours after the quake hit. Physicians and nurses from the University and Jackson Memorial Medical Center were some of the first responders to begin treating hundreds of earthquake victims. Since January 13, more than 100 UM doctors, nurses, and other personnel have traveled to Haiti. Working with limited supplies and in crude facilities, they have fought against the clock to save lives, provide compassionate care, and ease suffering.

Dr. Green and his team, with their customary vigor and intimate knowledge of the country, worked feverishly in a field hospital set up in a corner of Port-au-Prince’s ravaged international airport. Through the generosity of Alonzo Mourning and Stuart Miller, who donated four air-conditioned tents, a new temporary hospital opened on Wednesday—one week after the catastrophe. The hospital, located in the UN-protected compound, has advanced technologies and operating rooms for more lifesaving surgeries.

Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt and Dr. William O’Neill, executive dean for clinical affairs, who flew to Haiti to lend their expertise, shared that UM’s efforts in Haiti were nothing short of heroic. As of today, more than 700 internal and external volunteers have signed up to help in our initiatives—all are committed to the long-term recovery efforts which will be needed in Haiti. 

Lifesaving efforts are also taking place daily at home. Coordinating with colleagues here at the Ryder Trauma Center at UM/Jackson, our staff has transferred dozens of the most critically hurt to Miami through a daily shuttle of chartered flights. After the injured are delivered, the planes restock with vital supplies and equipment and send a fresh contingent of staff to provide more support and relief.

I want to share some of the truly amazing feats the University is accomplishing even under these challenging circumstances:

  • During the first 48 hours of arriving in Haiti, our medical staff treated more than 250 critically injured patients and prepared them for transport to facilities outside of the disaster area.

  • We established full telemedicine capabilities in our field hospital in Haiti, which can now communicate via satellite with the UM Incident Center and the UM/Jackson Ryder Trauma Center to provide consultations and transmit images of patients and surgeries in real-time video. The Miller family also provided critical support by donating two Immarsat satellite dishes as well as the air time for telemedicine.

  • Thanks to Dr. Tom Shane and his efforts in developing Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s “Eyeglasses Library,” our team will deliver 1,500 pairs of eyeglasses to Haiti. In addition, we have contacted eyeglass manufacturers to provide us with new ready-made spectacles to deliver to Haiti very soon.

  • We had a group of students from the School of Nursing and Health Studies who were in Haiti as part of Project Medishare, as well as several Haitian-American students who were visiting with family on the island during the winter break. Using our makeshift headquarters at the Port-au-Prince airport, Dr. Green’s team was able to facilitate their safe return to Miami.

  • Our students are accounted for. We are fortunate, indeed. Four Lynn University students and two faculty members who were in Haiti on a humanitarian mission at the time of the quake still have not been located or heard from. We have reached out to our colleagues at Lynn and have sent three staff members from the Counseling Center to provide any assistance they can during this painful time.

  • The UM Alumni Association has mounted efforts to account for the well-being of 32 alumni who live in Haiti.

  • Dean Goldschmidt visited Ransom Everglades School, where he collected a check for $29,340.48, funds the students raised for the UM Global Institute’s earthquake relief.

While all of this has transpired in Haiti, our students, faculty, and staff have been busy planning a variety of efforts to show their solidarity with Haiti and to help raise much-needed funds for relief aid.

On Wednesday more than 200 faculty, students, staff, and community members gathered to discuss what the University has already done to respond to this crisis, and what members of the community can do now and going forward. There will be more such meetings in the weeks ahead. After the forum, students held a candlelight vigil outside by the Rock, and more than 500 joined together—many students came to support their Haitian-American fellow students and to share in their grief.

The Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership is coordinating all student-based non-medical related relief efforts. Working with the Haitian Student Organization, student volunteer efforts are focusing on three key areas:

  • A fundraising campaign will designate proceeds from the sales of T-shirts, baked goods, and special events to relief efforts. Many other student organizations have offered to donate proceeds from their events to this cause.

  • A donation drive for critical items, including phone cards that members of the South Florida Haitian community can use to call their loved ones in Haiti. They will also facilitate a campus-wide donation drive for other acceptable items. The Butler Center has already made arrangements with the appropriate organizations that have agreed to receive and ship—when we are allowed to do so—donated items.

  • Immediate community outreach by partnering with Miami-Dade County and the United Way to help staff a donation collection warehouse. The Butler Center is also reaching out to local Haitian community centers and churches so our students can provide computer support to those who need help searching for friends and family still missing in Haiti.

  • The School of Law’s Health and Elder Law Clinic will be coordinating assistance to Haitians here in Miami who receive care at UM/Jackson to file for Temporary Protected Status with U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services. 

To keep track of the University’s ongoing response and for ways you can lend your support, please visit our ‘Canes Helping Haiti Web site by clicking here, or you can also link from www.miami.edu

The main message I keep hearing from those who have seen the devastation firsthand is that the University of Miami’s involvement will indeed be long term, as the current rescue and relief operations evolve into a rebuilding and empowering mission. In fact, in the days to come we will better understand the humanitarian, economic, and environmental repercussions of this tragedy. For Haitians each day will reveal how much they have lost—the places and people so familiar to them that are now gone.

Upon his return to Miami, Dean Goldschmidt reported that despite the devastation all around them, the people of Haiti are stoic: “They give us a lesson in courage that will be remembered forever.”

There is one bright light in the midst of this devastation—the remarkable and enduring spirit of the Haitian people. Their resiliency and resourcefulness are imbedded in their culture as is their optimism and joyous love of life. We must help fill the void left by such overwhelming loss with our committed efforts to make each day a little better for the people of Haiti.