Aid group helping elderly Haitians at nursing home; conditions improving amid chaos of quake

By Jonathan M. Katz, AP
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Help grows for abandoned elderly Haitians

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An international aid group has assumed day-to-day management of a nursing home in the Haitian capital where elderly residents were left starving in the dirt after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

HelpAge International will run the facility for the next six months after taking over from the government of Port-au-Prince, according to Jonathan Barden, the London-based group’s emergency response team leader. He said Wednesday that the group will pay three-quarters of the salaries for the home’s 40-odd employees, while the government will pay the rest.

In the days after the quake, the Municipal Nursing Home’s elderly residents were left with little food, water or medicine, sleeping in the dirt among rats. Besides the six residents killed by the earthquake, two more perished of apparent hunger and exhaustion in the following days.

Residents who accused the mayor’s office of abandoning them welcomed the news that HelpAge would be in charge.

“I’m good for six months. I don’t care about the mayor’s office until then,” said Licienne Petion, 90.

Conditions remain poor at the home in the middle of a makeshift tent city of more than 2,000 people. Flies are everywhere and chickens peck at the mud. Most residents napped outside Wednesday, on the ground or in their wheelchairs. Elderly women pulled off their clothes and bathed in public.

But nobody has died in weeks, and Barden said there was no need to bring in the doctor Wednesday because there were no urgent health problems. He said an engineer determined the building is structurally sound, and residents are gradually being moved back in.

A local gang is providing security, Barden said — a necessity given the realities of post-quake Haiti. He said the gang members asked for flashlights and pistols to do their jobs. HelpAge provided the flashlights.

“Everything is a struggle. Everything needs to be negotiated,” he said.

Food initially came from the charity World Vision, he said, but the soy-enriched bulgur wheat, while nutritious, was hard for the elderly residents to digest. He said HelpAge went to local markets to buy food.

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