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 SRU Nursing Professor Visits Poverty-Stricken Haiti 

 

SPOTLIGHT

10/8/2003

Contact: K.E. Schwab  -- 724-738-2199;  e-mail: karl.schwab@sru.edu

Photos available

Found Conditions Lacking Safety for Visitors:

SRU NURSING PROFESSOR PART OF HEALTH CARE TEAM IN POVERTY-STRICKEN HAITI

       SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -- Dr. Joyce Penrose's summer was both overwhelmingly educational and at the same time depressingly reflective as she used her nursing skills and a Slippery Rock University Professional Development Grant to lend a hand to the Pittsburgh-based Partners in Hope in delivering healthcare to residents of poverty-stricken Haiti.

           The SRU professor of nursing, who is certified as a family nurse practitioner, coordinates the Clarion, Edinboro and Slippery Rock Master of Science in Nursing Program. She says the two-week summer program gave her a growing appreciation of the poor health and overwhelming needs of residents of the island nation. Penrose was joined by other Americans, including two other nurses, three U.S. physicians and a number of volunteers without health backgrounds who lent a hand in providing health care. The U.S. team was joined by two Haitian physicians.

       Part of her work explored the feasibility of offering an international health experience in Haiti to nursing, nurse practitioner and allied health students. "The best way of helping American students understand the global nature of health care is to help them see for themselves how care is provided in other countries," she noted. Following her experience, she said such a learning experience for college students is currently not feasible. In making her decision, she pointed to the scarcity of local health care workers with whom students could work, lack of security and concern about student safety.

       Her team was headquartered in Petionville, a suburb of Port au Prince, and daily set-up clinics in schools and churches. "The worsening economic situation in Haiti has resulted in a dearth of health care services and crowds of up to 600 overwhelmed us at some sites. In one case, the chaos and the potential for violence led to the team's abrupt retreat," she recalls. "In most settings, however, we were able to set up  our stations and provide care. In many cases, church pews served as examination tables, and classrooms as the treatment stations or pharmacies," she explains. While team members felt that they were able to diagnose and treat disease, often preventing situations from worsening, Penrose notes that she often felt depressed that they could do so little in the face of such great need.

       The group's work included delivering medications and vitamins at makeshift pharmacies. "Eye glasses were distributed as volunteers attempted to match donated glasses with the visual defects of patients," Penrose explains, adding, "Powdered milk, infant cereal and hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste were also distributed."

       The SRU professor notes many older individuals had high blood pressure, sometimes in the range that would mandate hospitalization in the U.S., and that most children seen were anemic, suffering worm infestations andmalnutrition. She also pointed out that some local residents were bilingual in Haitian Creole and English and served as interpreters for the medical team. "One young woman had graduated from nursing school three years ago,but due to the economic situation and years of government under funding, she has not been able to secure a nursing position in spite of the enormous need," Penrose explains.

       She says she used to visit to both offer service to patients and to visualize ways students might gain an appreciation of the ways that health care services might be provided in such extremely low resource countries, should safety conditions improve to allow for their visit.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Penrose is available for interviews at 724-738-2323.

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