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A graduate of Cayuga Community College is using the skills and determination he developed in the College’s Nursing program to make a difference in a remote mountain community in Haiti.
Jonathan Kurtz ‘17 has spent the better part of 2023 at the Confidence Health Center in Oriani, Haiti, where he works as an administrator and nurse, treating patients and ensuring the facility has the supplies needed to help the local populace.
It’s challenging, at times tragic work complicated by a lack of supplies and safety concerns. But it’s work Kurtz has always believed in and wanted to pursue.
“We always talked of volunteering, sometime, somewhere, and I knew this clinic in Oriani was looking for more volunteers,” said Kurtz. “There are challenges that limit our ability to help our patients, but we’re helping people who are unable to access care elsewhere. Making do with what we have requires ingenuity and thinking outside the box.”
Kurtz started his medical career right out of Cayuga with more than five years as a nurse at Upstate University Hospital, including a year as a trauma nurse in their Emergency Department. He found the work fulfilling, but he and his wife always discussed volunteering abroad.
A decade earlier they had volunteered on an irrigation project in Haiti, and remained aware of the Oriani clinic and the important services it offered. The clinic, however, closed in 2022. Kurtz was in contact with a former administrator, though, and when the Oriani community decided to reopen the clinic, he and his wife volunteered.
The early weeks in Haiti were challenging. Though the clinic had not technically reopened, patients still arrived seeking treatment. The first day they officially opened, 31 patients arrived despite no announcement that the clinic was accepting patients.
Due to a lack of resources and some patients’ severe conditions, treatment is a challenge. Kurtz works with other on-site nurses, treating patients with diabetes, hypertension, wound care, infections, prenatal checkups and pediatric vaccinations. The scarcity of medical facilities leads to people arriving at his house in the middle of the night to request his help.
Kurtz remembered a day when a 2-year-old child arrived with third-degree burns that the clinic was able to treat with pain medication and antibiotics to prevent an infection.
“We did dressing changes every day for a week and gave him juice and protein shakes. After three weeks of wound care, he healed nicely with minimal scarring and no infections,” said Kurtz.
The Center can handle many primary care cases effectively, said Kurtz. But more complex cases pose problems, from questions of treatment and transportation to gangs blocking roadways that access area hospitals or patients being unable to afford treatment at other facilities.
“This leaves us with choices. With all these difficulties in mind, is it better to do what we can here? Or should we send them to another town or city and maybe they can find help at one of the other facilities?” he said. “There are no easy answers to some of these cases.”
Kurtz has not been discouraged despite the challenges in helping people at the Center. He’s committed to helping people in Haiti, and plans to remain with the facility into 2025. While he’s there, he keeps in mind some of the lessons he learned in Cayuga’s Nursing program.
“The professors gave me an excellent base of medical knowledge for the care I provide here in Haiti,” he said. “The clinical instructors helped me develop prioritization skills and taught me the clinical skills I need for wound care and procedures. The program also taught me how to find good resources for research. This is invaluable in keeping our protocols up-to-date.”
More information and details on donating to the Confidence Health Center can be found at www.confidencehealthcenter.com.