Hospitals Are Not Prisons!

Updated Jan 2 2020

Are you a health worker in Haiti? Looking to help? Informing patients about their rights is powerful! Please share the following flyer in Haitian Creole (English Translation is below).

As an anthropologist who has worked closely with women and infants in Haiti over the past 10 years, I am deeply saddened and angered to have learned this past week about illegal policies at two European and American-operated mission hospitals, including the Catholic hospital, Hospital Sacre Coeur at The CRUDEM Foundation – Hôpital Sacré Coeur – Milot, Haiti Milot, Haiti, and Hopital De La Convention Baptiste D’Haiti – HCBH in Quartier Morin Haiti. As routine policy at both hospitals, administrators and security guards imprison indigent patients following medical treatment, illegally locking them in mass holding areas in wretched conditions until family members can afford to set them free by paying their outstanding bill. Once paid, administrators will provide them a receipt and alert the security guards that they are allowed to leave.

Partnering with an on-the ground team consisting of China Tolliver and local Haitian professionals, we have reached out to the US and European leaders of these hospitals. Two weeks ago, we spoke with leaders at the Holy Name Hospital in New Jersey, which operates Sacre Coeur, the official Sacre Coeur board, CRUDEM, the local Sacre Coeur administration, the local Baptist administration, and international leaders in Hope Health Action (founders of HCBH). In these conversations, it has become clear that critical leaders in the aforementioned organizations have been aware of these practices for years and materially supported them. We ask them now to speak of these practices, admit to them, and commit to change them. In this regard, we wish to note that HCBH executive leadership has been more forthcoming with their desire to restructure their policies and continue in dialog, but nonetheless we have had to work to free numerous mothers and new babies since the process began, three this week alone. (as of Jan 2)

The practice of imprisoning vulnerable patients at Hospital Sacre Coeur and HCBH has particularly affected women and newborn babies, who have been left outside in deplorable conditions open to the elements. These two hospitals neither fed the imprisoned patients nor provided them with water, instead leaving it up to their families, who may be very far away and—with the additional pressure of finding funds for surgery—unable to regularly return to provide for food or water for drinking or cleaning.

There is the tragic case of “Angelique”, a mother whose baby died from complications during delivery at HCBH. She was subsequently held for two months in the hospital, sick from hunger, unable to grieve with her family. She made it through her terrifying ordeal through the kindness of women in the same situation who shared the food their own families brought them in detention.

There is the case of “Jolette”, a mother who underwent an emergency cesarean and within 3 days was locked outside in a gated patio with her newborn baby, whom she breastfed atop cardboard boxes covered in flies. When she explained to nurses that she did not have a family that could help pay, nor did she have money herself, the director (edited: corrected from prior copy stating it was a nurse) mocked her callously, saying: “I guess you will have to sell the baby.”

There is also the story that patients shared of a man at Sacre Coeur who, just a matter of weeks ago, was one of the very few to successfully escape captivity there by running across a field and scaling a wall at night. The other survivors are proud he made it out.

In the past week, an American organization, MamaBaby Haiti raised funds online to pay hospital administrators for the release of 13 women and 8 babies. Many others have come forward to speak about their own period of captivity at these hospitals, providing medical records and other material evidence that substantiates their stories.

Beyond speaking out and condemning these violations of basic human rights, we as community members and organizations must strive to do even more. Each of us has a role to play in ending illegal medical detentions.

I know many dedicated supporters of these hospitals will want to work towards public accountability and long-term solutions immediately. We are hopeful that involving them in the process will lead to actual change, and they will remain committed to seeing proof of this change. Despite assurances from board members, continued photographs sent by a detained patient at Baptiste reached my cellphone as recently as yesterday.
We ask you to help us contact the board of CRUDEM, the board of Konbit-Sante (Allies of Both Hospitals), the trustees of Hope Health Action (founders of HCBH) , the Sisters of St Joseph of the Peace (Executive Leaders in Sacre Coeur), to demand that Sacre Coeur and HCBH take the following actions: **UPDATE**HCBH Executive leadership has made several concrete steps towards the first point, and we are cautiously optimistic that all persons are out of detention as of today, Mon. Dec 16, though this latter point is pending verification while we arrange with leadership for an independent Haitian source to visit the hospital***

1. Cease these medical detentions immediately, and commit to publically investigating and taking accountability for the practice. **update SC: no response from Sacre Coeur**update HCBH Hope Health Action leadership is eager to dialog and change practices**

2. Openly inform patients of their rights in Haitian Creole, including freedom from imprisonment, upon treatment at Sacre Coeur and HCBH.

3. Allow independent sources to verify these changes on the ground.**stay tuned as we arrange with HCBH for independent verification**

To move forward, we must call out this abuse for what it is, and work together to create safe spaces and environments where Haitian life is respected and can thrive. We must be firm in demanding an end to (and accountability for) these inhumane violations of human dignity.

We send this call to action with the hope that community members, religious, cultural and civic organizations, policymakers, allies and media will all take on the task of ending these inhumane practices of medical detention anywhere they occur. We will continue research on the ground to determine the extent of these practices, to investigate other hospitals, and to provide a platform for survivors to speak out.

Alissa Jordan, in partnership with China Tolliver and Haitian Partners (who wish to remain anonymous).

Photos Below: A woman held captive by unjust hospital policies, prevented by a guard from leaving, forced to sleep with her newborn infant on an exposed patio upon cardboard boxes. (Photos by China Tolliver)

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