A Healthcare Professional's Real-life Experiences With Haitian Refugees

We Were Told It Was “A Local Problem”
It hurt when I recently read an op-ed by Author and adventurer James S. Gardner.  He was commenting on refugees from the Haitian earthquake. He said, “Make no mistake about it, they are coming.”

My heart sunk as I read that because I know the repercussions of refugees coming to our shores. I lived through it as a health care provider in the late 70s during the Mariel Boat Landing in south east Florida. I worked at Mt. Sinai Medical Center on South Miami Beach as an emergency room respiratory therapist. I was in regular contact with these “boat people,” as they were then called. We were their first contact after the EMTs, police or Coast Guard brought them to the hospital. We cared for their physical wounds, tried to comfort their emotional terror and watched helplessly as some of them died on our gurneys before we could even find out why they were dying. I held many hands back then and listened to their pleading in a language I couldn’t understand. But our eyes and clutching hands held a communication that can’t be expressed in words. The most heartbreaking complaint I made to my superiors was that we didn’t have anyone on our healthcare team that spoke the languages of the “boat people,” and they were afraid, sick and dying with no one who understood them.

There were Cubans and Haitian refugees. I heard recently that during the 70’s two thirds of the “boat people” drowned while trying to flee to freedom. Dade County processed 200,000 boat people back then. (That could possibly mean that 400,000 people drowned in the Mariel Boat event.) We pleaded with Washington to help us. Our health care and our educational system were bulging, splitting at the seams. Then President, Jimmy Carter continuously told us it was “a local problem.” We were unable to handle the sudden influx of people and the tragedy worsened.

Click the link below to continue reading my article.

Op-ed: Haitian Earthquake Refugees

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Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing.........my heart to them all.........may all of our eyes be opened including the Haitians......b

--Barry Kapp

Bruce Greyson, MD said...

What a heart wrenching essay! Thank you for writing it and for sharing it.

Dana Mrkich said...


I’ll be sending out my newsletter on Monday, with a link to your article if it’s up on your blog by then. Wonderful piece.

I was writing my Monthly Visions the other day and it too focuses on Haiti and the rather pathetic way our international governments have dealt with countries that they promised to help but instead have left stranded. Now, as natural disasters start to escalate, they are going to face a much bigger problem. As countries literally collapse due to infrastructures collapsing that could barely cope in normal circumstances let alone surviving an earthquake or tsunami or rising sea levels, the international community’s head in the sand approach to refugees and poverty-stricken people is not going to work. What is true on the personal level is true on the global: what you choose to resist, ignore or repress gets louder and bigger until you acknowledge it. If the ‘rich nations’ had been true to their financial and humanitarian obligations with Global Development Assistance we may not be seeing the catastrophic suffering we are seeing today in Haiti. However, because they chose to default on their promises the price paid in the end will be beyond anything they could have imagined.

With blood pressure rising,

Love Dana xo

Laurie Dare said...

Great article! Some of my best experiences as a social worker have been meeting refugees from other cultures and having the privilege of working with them and having them share their culture with me.

Steve Harris said...

Beautiful article, Mom. Well said.



Holly Stevenson Duvall said...

Well done!! Compassion is sooo under rated!
xo, holly

Anonymous said...

Thanks Barbara! I will pass it on to my superiors. Food for thought....