Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Associate professor emerita learns U-M grads survived Haiti earthquake

A retired associate professor of nursing who helped start a nursing school in Haiti learned late Wednesday that two associates — both U-M graduates — had been found after being caught in Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

Ruth Barnard said Donna Martsolf, who worked with Barnard to help found the Faculty of Nursing Science of the Episcopal University of Haiti, and her husband, Dr. Robert Martsolf, flew into the capital of Port-Au-Prince about an hour before the quake struck at 5 p.m.

Barnard said she learned late Wednesday that the Martsolfs had been heard from and were at a Port-Au-Prince hotel.

Above, the buildings of the Faculty of Nursing Science of the Episcopal University of Haiti. Below, students attend a class at the school. (Photos courtesy of Ruth Barnard)

They had gone to Haiti to help interview applicants for the job of hospital administrator at Hopital Ste. Croix (Holy Cross Hospital), which is near the nursing school. Both are located in Leogane, about 20 miles west of Port-Au-Prince and about five miles from the quake’s reported epicenter.

Donna Martsolf, a registered nurse and professor of nursing at Kent State University in Ohio, is a graduate of the School of Nursing. Robert Martsolf is in private practice and a graduate of the Medical School.

U-M officials believe there are no current students or faculty in Haiti.

Barnard has made about a dozen trips to the Caribbean nation, most recently in September for the graduation of the school’s second class of nursing students. She said the Haitian emergency-preparedness system is ill equipped for a disaster such as the earthquake that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. It destroyed much of Port-Au-Prince and left a death toll that some estimates have placed in the hundreds of thousands.

“They don’t have the kinds of master plans (that are common in more developed countries). They don’t have the facilities to handle these disasters,” she said.  “The Haitians are a resilient people and they will make it through this disaster and tragedy with some outside help.”

The nursing school and its associated buildings are one story tall and built solidly of reinforced concrete block, making it more likely they could withstand the quake and its aftershocks, she said. However, the hospital is three stories tall, and Barnard said she received an unofficial report that it was destroyed. She said the hospital has been closed for about a year and a half.

"The health care infrastructure there is not good, even in the best of times," she said. "So this disaster is certainly overloading the system, and a lot of people are going to suffer as a result."

There are only 10.7 nurses per 100,000 residents (compared to 940 per 100,000 in the U.S.), and 30 doctors per 100,000 people, she said.

Barnard is past president and founder of the Haiti Nursing Foundation, a non-profit public charity created in 2005 to promote the advancement of nursing in Haiti.

Asked to help start the Haitian nursing school in 2001 by officials at the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Barnard joined the effort shortly after she retired from U-M’s School of Nursing. It is the first nursing school in Haiti to offer a four-year baccalaureate program. It opened in 2005 and has graduated two classes, a total of 26 graduates. Currently, it enrolls 127 Haitian students.

The U-M Student Nurses' Association will hold its Third Annual Charity Ball at the Michigan League on Feb. 20 to benefit the Haitian nursing school, Barnard said.

Kelly Cunningham, U-M director of public affairs, said a check of university programs associated with Haiti identified no U-M students or faculty currently in the country, and no Haitian residents currently are enrolled at U-M.

Cunningham said that in searching for any U-M personnel, the university checks a variety of sources, including the International Travel Registry, which allows university students, faculty or staff to submit their itinerary and contact information in case of an emergency.

— Jim Erickson of the News Service contributed to this article.