A New Rehab Center Aims to Redefine Spinal Cord Injury in Haiti

This January shovels hit the ground in Fond des Blancs for the construction of a long-awaited Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center. Employing 10 locally-hired skilled workers and 30 local construction workers, the facility is scheduled to open its doors in May.

The SCI program at SBH, began in response to the 2010 earthquake, has shared space with the main hospital since its inception. All SCI inpatients are housed in the adult ward for the duration of their stay. Physical therapy sessions take place in a cornered-off section of the patient waiting area. Sharing such close quarters with the hospital’s other patients for an extended period can be challenging for those learning to live with SCI. The new facility changes all that.

“The center will allow our SCI program participants to realize an increased level of independence. It will give them the ability to shift their mindset from that of a person who is sick—and lumped in with all the other sick patients at the hospital—to a person beginning to adapt to life with a disability,” said Betsy Sherwood, the SCI program coordinator.

HEI/SBH is partnering with Christian Blind Mission (CBM), an international development organization based in Germany, on the center. CBM is funding the project as part of their rights-based, community-based rehabilitation initiatives.

The SCI Center will be able to accommodate up to 16 SCI admissions at a time. Design plans include a wheelchair-accessible cooking area and accessible showers, study areas and toilets. Two large spaces will be available for vocational training programs and physical and occupational therapy. The space will also be to train local rehabilitation staff from SBH and other institutions in Haiti.

In addition, eight shelters will be constructed to house family caregivers. “We are very excited about this aspect,” Sherwood said. “Family members can safely and comfortably stay on-site long enough to learn essential preventive care techniques from our staff.”

To date, the SCI program has admitted approximately 50 patients and the vast majority of those have been successfully reintegrated into their communities. When they move back home, they receive monthly visits from a trained team of staff members who check in on their physical and mental well being and deliver needed medication and supplies. When they first came to St. Boniface, many patients didn’t expect to have a future—much less one that would allow them to return to homes, families, work and school. The goal of the SCI program is to help them live that future.

A new, dedicated building makes the goal of expanding the size and scope of the SCI program a reality.

“Although we’ve made the best of it, in the past we were limited to the bed space available within the hospital. This will massively expand our ability to take on new persons with SCI,” said Sherwood.

But the team doesn’t plan to stop at SCI. “The center will also be open to anyone who could benefit from physical or occupational therapy. We intend to hold general therapy sessions two days a week to service the needs of the community,” Sherwood added.

Check back for updates on the progress of the rehab center construction.