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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Reflection from Haiti, January 14, 2010

Letter to employees from Bascom Palmer Chairman

In response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, many of you have asked how you could support relief efforts. I am pleased to let you know that Bascom Palmer is sending a team of doctors and nurses to Port Au Prince tomorrow to provide medical care for the people of Haiti and others will be following in the weeks and months to follow, plus Dr. James Banta, our ocular trauma specialist, is already in Haiti.

Dr. Banta arrived in Port Au Prince today as Bascom Palmer’s first emergency responder. He will remain in Haiti for a few days. Based on his assessment, he feels most ophthalmology and ophthalmic surgery needs are secondary and advised us that medical teams for wound care are the most immediate critical need.

Under the superb direction of Dr. Richard Lee, who is organizing Bascom Palmer’s medical relief efforts, the first team of Bascom Palmer physicians and nurses fly to Haiti on Saturday. The physicians include: Drs. Richard Lee, Tom Johnson, and Tom Shane and surgical nurse, Ashlee Vainisee. Our team will offer general medical aid as needed, and surgery for ocular trauma if required. However, they are prepared to give up their seats on the plane if other medical specialists are deemed more critical.

Dr. Lee has contacted pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies and requested emergency aid including ocular antibiotics, eye medications, and equipment necessary for eye surgery. This will enable our doctors to treat infections and provide us the necessary equipment for minor surgeries, removal of ocular foreign bodies, suturing lacerations, etc. that are common with trauma.

Thanks to Dr. Shane and his efforts in developing Bascom Palmer’s “Eyeglasses Library,” our team will deliver 1,500 pairs of eyeglasses to Haiti. In addition, we have contacted eyeglass manufacturers to provide us with new ready-made spectacles to deliver to Haiti very soon. We have used portable auto-refractors in previous trips to Haiti and these will help us dispense eyeglasses with the appropriate refractive power. We learned during our medical missions to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and when we offer screenings in under-served areas, the loss and damage to existing eyeglasses is a major problem at times of disaster and increases the risk to people who cannot see well.

With regard to surgery for ocular trauma, it is unclear if Port Au Prince, without water, electricity or equipment and collapsed hospitals, will have the necessary facilities for eye surgery. Last year, Bascom Palmer physicians lead a medical mission to Cap Haitien, Haiti and they performed ophthalmic surgeries at two facilities, Hospital Justinien and Sacred Heart Hospital at nearby Millot. We have surgical experience with these facilities and the staff, and left surgical supplies there for a future trip. If those supplies are still there we may be able to provide eye surgeries. We have been told that those facilities were relatively undamaged by the earthquake.

Today and again tomorrow, Serafin Gonzalez, Pharm. D., director of our Pharmacy Services in Miami, coordinated the shipment of ophthalmic medications to Haiti. He also ordered additional medications and expects to deliver those with the Bascom Palmer team leaving Saturday. His efforts will continue as more needs are identified.

I have also spoken with Dr. David Parke, Executive Vice-President and CEO of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He has offered the Academy’s many avenues of assistance to Bascom Palmer, especially assistance with donation of equipment and supplies from the ophthalmic industry.

We are prepared to help the Haitian people for a long time. We expect more medical teams from Bascom Palmer will go to Haiti in the next few months and years and we will keep you informed of our activities.

Many of you have asked how you can help. Bascom Palmer has established the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute Vision for Haiti Relief Fund. Monies contributed to this fund will underwrite our medical efforts in Haiti. Donations to this fund will help pay for our costs associated with sending Bascom Palmer teams to Haiti including the ophthalmic supplies, equipment and medications that we will take in order to treat the Haitian patients. You may give to this account in three ways:

  • Bring a check or credit card information to the Marketing and Development Offices on the 4th floor of Anne Bates Leach Eye Hospital, Miami.
  • Mail your check or credit card information to: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Marketing and Development Department, 900 NW 17 Street, Miami, FL 33136
  • Give on-line though this link which will take you to the University of Miami website on-line giving page where you may indicate (1) your donation goes to “Bascom Palmer Eye Institute” and (2) near the bottom of the page in the comments section, please write, “Bascom Palmer Vision for Haiti Relief Fund.” Click here

The University of Miami is also encouraging people to give through the United Way/UM Operation Helping Hands, which supports the UM Global Institute and the work of UM doctors, nurses, and students who are working directly with victims. You can find more information at

At this time, most organizations are asking for monetary donations and not seeking material items, clothes, food or volunteers. However, thanks to Ileana-Dopico Dunbar, our Patient Access Supervisor in the first floor retina service, we have learned that the Haitian Consulate in Miami is seeking material donations. They are in desperate need of flashlights and batteries, sleeping bags, blankets, towels, first aid kits, antibiotic ointment, over the counter anti-diarrhea medications, first aid kits, diapers, new or gently worn tropical-weather clothing and shoes for men, women and children, and new personal hygiene items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, combs or brushes, deodorant, moist wipes/towelettes, etc.

Collection boxes will be placed in the lobby of Anne Bates Leach Eye Hospital and the McKnight Vision Research Center. I encourage team members in our satellite locations to donate material items to organizations in your neighborhoods or to give cash donations to the Bascom Palmer Vision for Haiti Relief Fund, or the organization of your choice. If you have questions regarding the material donations, you can call Ileana at 305 326 6100.

I would like to thank Mike Kelly, who is organizing the transportation to and from Haiti for our staff. You may remember that Mike led our Vision Van efforts to Mississippi and Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. While we appreciate that some of you have volunteered to staff the Vision Van if it goes to Haiti, our mobile screening Van is not designed to travel on rough terrain as is present now everywhere in Port Au Prince due to collapsed buildings.

I know you join me in sending your thoughts and prayers to the people of Haiti. Thank you for your concern and offers of assistance. I will keep you informed of future activities and needs as they are identified.

Eduardo Alfonso, M.D.

Chairman, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute