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EHMC Staff in Haiti - Englewood Hospital Physicians and Nurses Aid in Haiti Relief

Spotlight On: Leocadie Toussaint, RN

Registered nurse Leocadie Toussaint of Dumont, NJ expected to be in South Carolina at the end of January celebrating her nephew’s graduation from US Army basic training. Instead, she found herself in Haiti during the aftermath of one of history’s worst recorded national disasters, an earthquake of epic proportions.

It was just three days after the quake killed more than 230,000 people and injured or displaced millions of Haitians that Leocadie contacted the Haitian American Nurses Association (HANA) of Rockland County to determine if the organization could help her get to Haiti. She knew nurses were desperately needed. Her desire to help as a nurse was intensified by the fact that she has family and friends in the rural Haitian town of Liancourt, where she was born. The ties that bind most tightly, family, friends and country, were calling her home.

On Saturday, January 23 she flew from JFK with a group from HANA and arrived at Port-au-Prince to find a city that bore little resemblance to the one she last saw nine years ago. A group of Scientologists, who work with HANA, greeted her team of relief workers and housed them for the remainder of their mission.

Leocadie worked twelve-hour shifts, caring mostly for adults recovering from major surgeries that often included amputations. The word extraordinary does not begin to describe the challenges Leocadie faced nursing an unrelenting stream of patients without adequate supplies, equipment or medication. Particularly difficult was the painful realization that too many would not survive due to infections and lack of follow-up care. The contrast between working in America, where she is a nurse at The Family Birth Place at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and nursing in Haiti after the earthquake was beyond stunning.

Still, although she practiced what she has called “a different kind of nursing,” her work as a nurse was remarkably similar. “I provided the same type of care, but the ‘hospital’ was different,” she explained. “No matter what, nursing is still the same skill. You perform your assessment and treat your patient accordingly. You develop relationships with the patients.”

One of the variations was lack of support personnel. “There certainly were no social workers, of course, to prepare people for discharge,” Leocadie said. “I had one orthopedic patient who, if she had been in the United States, definitely would have left the hospital in an ambulance. Instead, the family had to pick her up in a car, and I had to escort them out to make sure the guards would let them leave with the mattress I had given them.”

It could only have been her professionalism that kept back tears while on duty. “I didn’t think about crying,” she said. “I did that later.” Her family has resigned itself to moving on after the loss of her cousin, who is presumed dead because she did not return home that terrible day. “We are all trying to cope as best as possible. As my sister said, under the circumstances, you cannot cry for one person.”

Leocadie is the third nurse from Englewood Hospital to work in Haiti as part of the relief effort. Emergency Department nurses Cathi Goldfischer and Arlene Keys spent 17 days in Haiti with the NJ-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The three nurses were the presenters at a special Grand Rounds recently held in the auditorium of the Medical Center, where they spoke about nursing under such extraordinary circumstances.

Senior Vice President for Patient Care Services Edna Cadmus moderated the program and announced that the Nursing Department at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center is exploring ways to assist fellow nurses in disaster-stricken Haiti. One initiative that will be enacted immediately is a fundraising campaign for the Haiti Nursing Foundation. The funds will go towards training and educating local nurses, so that the devastated country can better care for their own.

The Medical Center is also investigating the possibility of sending nurses who can qualify as instructors to teach at the nursing school when the situation has stabilized. Edna Cadmus reached out to administrators in Haiti after researching how Englewood Hospital and Medical Center could provide assistance.