U.S. resumes airlift of injured Haitians

Betina Joseph, 5, lies with her mother Denise Exima, 28, at the University of Miami-run field hospital at Haiti's international airport in Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. Doctors said that tetanus developed in Betina's small leg wound and if she's not evacuated in the next 24 hours, she may die. Efforts to treat the injured suffered a setback as the US military said it had halted flights carrying earthquake victims to the US for emergency medical care, because of an apparent cost dispute.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:24 p.m.

The White House said Sunday it would resume a United States military airlift of Haitians seriously injured in the earthquake — some with devastating burns, head and spinal cord trauma, amputations and other wounds — to American hospitals. The humanitarian effort was suspended five days ago following complaints from the state of Florida that its hospitals were overwhelmed.

“Having received assurances that additional capacity exists both here and among our international partners, we determined that we can resume these critical flights,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

The flights, which have transported hundreds of gravely injured patients, all but a handful to Florida, were suspended Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida wrote a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, warning that “Florida's health care system is quickly reaching saturation, especially in the area of high-level trauma care.” He asked the federal government to absorb some of the expenses by activating the National Disaster Medical System, which reimburses states for hospital treatment after catastrophes.

David Halstead, an official with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who is coordinating the state's rescue effort for earthquake victims, contended in a telephone interview that Florida has treated 530 Haitian patients and that 190 remain in the state's hospitals. Others with less serious injuries were still being flown in.

“Meanwhile, the rest of the states combined have accepted four patients, and it's not that other states aren't willing,” he said. “We can certainly accept patients, but there has to be a plan.”

Confusion also disrupted a smaller humanitarian effort involving Haitian children.

A Baptist church in Idaho, whose members were among 10 people detained for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti into the Dominican Republic, said Sunday that the team was “falsely arrested” and that the organization was doing everything it could “to clear up the misunderstanding.”

A statement on the Web site of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, said the team traveled to Haiti to rescue children from orphanages destroyed in the earthquake on Jan. 12. The children, the statement said, were headed for an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic, where their medical and emotional needs might be cared for.

Haitian officials detained the church members as their bus traveled toward the Dominican Republic and charged the adults with lacking proper documents for the children, who range in age from 2 months to 12 years old. Haitian officials have said they are concerned that children who lost their parents in the quake might be susceptible to child trafficking for purposes of adoption.

The church group, which also includes worshipers at East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, was being held at judicial police headquarters in Port-au-Prince until a hearing Monday before a judge.

Ms. Laura Silsby, a director of the Austria-based SOS Children's Villages, said that the Baptist group, which included members from Texas and Kansas as well as Idaho, had planned to take the children to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, that it has converted into a temporary orphanage until it builds a permanent one. The 33 children on the bus have been temporarily placed in an orphanage run by the SOS group. On its Web site, SOS contended that the children were destined for adoption and that a group it said was associated with the 10 Baptists, New Life Children's Refuge, advertised adoptions for Americans. But Ms. Silsby said the group had paid no money for the children and learned about them from a Haitian pastor, Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

A Web site belonging to the East Side Baptist Church contains an informational attachment for New Life, which states the following purpose for the organization:

“New Life Children's Refuge is a nonprofit Christian ministry dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God's love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ. We will strive to also equip each child with a solid education and vocational skills as well as opportunities for adoption into a loving Christian family.”

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