January 20, 2006 - #55
FEMUR donates a Dynamap Pro 1000 to the Hospital de Bruyn
On Saturday, January 7, several members of the non-profit association FEMUR went to the local hospital to present its director, Pierre Nuty, and his medical staff with a Dynamap Pro 1000. The multi-parametric monitor, equipped for remote data transmission, takes blood pressure, measures the pulse, cardiac activity, and the level of oxygen in the blood. The hospital already has one Dynamap Pro 1000, donated by the Rotary Club. These machines are essential for emergency treatment and observation of patients. The donation of the second machine represents the desire by the director of the hospital to double the available equipment to meet the needs of an island that is isolated both geographically and politically.
The French government had long forgotten the tiny island of Saint Barth, that was traded to the Swedes in 1784 in exchange for some warehouses, then given back to the French a century later. The “St. Barths” lived in a state of sheer poverty and it was hard to make ends meet. In 1817, the nuns from the order of St. Paul de Chartres were asked by the French Minister of the Interior to set up overseas in Martinique and Guadeloupe, in order to take care of the local population. As of 1853, when they began to work at the military hospital in Saint Martin, they also began to visit Saint Barth on a regular basis. In 1922, noting the absence of a medical infrastructure on the island, Father Irénée de Bruyn, a Dutch priest with the local parish, decided to build a hospital. He tried to raise money on the island but the donations were not enough. So Father de Bruyn asked for financial aid from the Dutch government in Curaçao, and they agreed to build the hospital. Marie and Elvina Hayes donated the land where the hospital was built. With volunteer help from the local population, construction started in 1930. A building that included a room for a dozen patients, a small kitchen, and a tiny space for a pharmacy, was completed three years later. The official inauguration was held on February 18, 1934. The hospital, more like a Catholic mission than a real hospital, functioned thanks to the work of three nurse-nuns from the order St. Paul de Chartres, yet the means for treating the sick were extremely minimal. Women, who until then had given birth at home, started coming to the Hospital de Bruyn when their babies were born. In 1966, the Mother Superior requested that the nuns return to their central convent in Martinique. Due to lack of funds to hire civilian nurses, the Hospital de Bruyn closed its doors on February 1, 1967. The local branch of a public assistance association helped the transit the sick to Saint Martin. It wasn’t until 1970 that the hospital in Saint Barth opened again, thanks to the fact it was named a departmental facility thanks to a suggestion from the association for the protection of children, and the Catholic diocese of Guadeloupe. A director was named but due to a lack of funds to hire a staff, the nuns from St. Paul de Chartres were once again called upon. On several occasions, the hospital found itself without a director, and it wasn’t until 1979 that the decision was made in Guadeloupe to have the director of the hospital in Saint Martin also run the one in Gustavia. The hospital de Bruyn was always considered a place for initial emergency care, before seriously ill or injured patients are evacuated by airplane to larger hospitals in Guadeloupe or Martinique as quickly as possible. Over the years, there were several unsuccessful attempts to create a true surgical facility. On August 30, 1991, a decree by the Prefect changed the official status of the hospital, which meant the closing of the three beds that made up an informal maternity ward, in keeping with a law passed on July 31, 1991 that called for the closing of all maternity wards in local hospitals by July 31, 1996 at the latest. Due to this decision by the French government, women could no longer give birth in Saint Barth, and they are required to leave for Saint Martin or Guadeloupe at least a month before the baby is due (as the airlines refuse to transport women who are past seven and a half months pregnant), and wait there until the baby is born.
In the 1970s, the island began to attract more tourists. Seduced by its charms and tranquility, American visitors began to build vacation homes. By spending several months a year on the island, they became aware of the precarious medical situation faced by the residents. Even though the hospital was a departmental unit run by Guadeloupe, actual support from the department was rather minimal. Did the director of the hospital not ask for aid, or did Guadeloupe turn a deaf ear? No one can say for sure. Yet one thing is sure: regular donations from individuals helped the hospital enormously. In 1981, Peter Mund, an American citizen who had a home in Vitet, created FEMUR (Foundation for Emergency Medical Equipment). The association includes several members who lead a regular fund-raising campaign to finance the purchase of equipment that the hospital needs to function more effectively. FEMUR also helped provide the equipment for the new dialysis center that opened 18 months ago next to the dispensary. Raymond Magras, Jo Félix and Ernest Brin, three members of FEMUR, have announced that they will start raising money once again as soon as they know what equipment is needed for the new wing of the hospital.
More to come