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On a mission

On a Mission | Augusta Health Matters
Laurie Buel, RN, is shown with a girl who received a pillowcase dress made by a member of Buel's church.

Augusta Health employee takes volunteer trips to Haiti

In a small Haitian village, the only medical care comes from inside a makeshift clinic tucked within a church. One Haitian doctor and a handful of missionary nurses oversee the clinic — as well as roughly 80 similar clinics scattered across this impoverished Caribbean country. Medical volunteers from Haiti Mission, a Christian-based nonprofit organization, rotate in and out of the churches every month or so, sharing their love of faith, medical expertise and precious medical supplies.

Laurie Buel, an RN with Augusta Health for 25 years, is one of them. She recently returned from her seventh Haiti trip. Her initial trip took place in 2008. “Sometimes these are barely towns, with no pharmacy or hospital nearby,” Buel says. “Haiti Mission teams’ portable clinics are sometimes the villagers’ only source for care. Rural clinics are not close by and there is a charge. We do not charge for our services and medications. We saw more than 250 patients each of the four days we were there, and everyone was so grateful.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with high rates of child mortality and unemployment. In 2010, a massive earthquake struck the island nation, compounding problems of food insecurity and lack of resources.

This past year, Buel’s team consisted of 17 people, including herself, as well as two additional nurses, one cook, and 13 construction workers dedicated to completing a local orphanage. As with every volunteer trip Buel has taken to Haiti, Augusta Health, which is not affiliated with Haiti Mission, provided her with a wealth of medical supplies, such as adult, children’s and prenatal vitamins; over-the-counter pain relievers; eye drops; anti-fungal and anti-itch creams; antibiotic ointments; suture kits; and bandages.

“I submit a ‘wish list’ to Augusta Health and expect a little bit here or there. But every year Augusta Health provides every single item on the list. It’s a great blessing,” Buel says with gratitude.

Rarely are any supplies left over, since long lines of villagers greet each Haiti Mission team. “The local pastor lets everyone know when we’re arriving. We arrive to a long line that has formed, waiting for hours to be seen, usually mothers with children and elderly people,” Buel says.

She adds that goiter is a common diagnosis, since the villagers’ diet lacks iodine, such as iodized salt. Treatment is also frequently administered for parasites, because contaminated rivers are often the villagers’ sole water source.

Taking a holistic approach to her work, Buel is dedicated to each patient’s mind, body and spirit. Sometimes that means taking up a monetary offering so a mother can bring her child to the hospital for specialized care. “God loves the people of Haiti, and I want to be an ambassador of his love to them,” she says. “We do whatever we can to make a difference in each patient’s life.”

Learn about Augusta Health’s local community outreach at augustahealth.com/community-outreach.