On Aug. 14 at 8:29 a.m., a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the small island nation of Haiti.
The quake was centered in a rural mountainous region about 93 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. At least 2,207 people have been confirmed killed as of Aug. 22 and more than 12,000 injured. At least 136,800 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Two days after the earthquake struck, I packed my gear and was on a jet bound for Port-au-Prince to meet up with a mobile medical team from the Kansas-based non-governmental organization Heart to Heart International.
My job with HHI is to be the eyes on the ground for disaster and recovery managers outside of the zone. I also provide images for donors to see how their much-needed donations are being used to help people in need.
I’m a former News-Review photographer and freelance photojournalist based near Elkton. My work is regularly published in magazines and websites worldwide.
A few years ago I started working with the international humanitarian organization HHI as a photographer documenting their disaster response. Heart to Heart International is a global nonprofit that works to improve health and responds to the needs of disaster victims worldwide.
In 2019 I was deployed with an advance team from HHI to the hard-hit areas of the Bahamas after hurricane Dorian devastated one of its islands.
Since 2010, HHI has had a significant presence in Haiti. Currently, about 70 Haitians are employed by HHI working in healthcare, community resilience, and economic development. When the earthquake struck, the organization quickly pivoted to providing mobile medical aid to communities in the remote regions rocked by the tumbler.
The level of care provided by HHI is comparable to what you or I would receive at a typical walk-in medical clinic in the United States. Advanced emergency cases in the field are typically triaged and transported to local hospitals.
HHI already had a trained and primed medical team on the ground in Haiti. There was no need to bring in outside doctors and nurses from the United States. The organization was able to respond almost immediately to the hard-hit areas with repurposed teams of all-Haitian doctors and nurses from their community health clinics.
When I arrived in Port-au-Prince, myself, Wes Comfort, HHI’s Caribbean response and recovery manager, and our driver Toto headed west with our 4-wheel-drive Isuzu Trooper. We met up with one of the HHI mobile medical teams in the hard-hit town of Maniche near the city of Les Cayes.
Throughout our 10 days in the earthquake zone, minor aftershocks could be felt daily. In Maniche, aftershocks rattled the tin roof of the building next to our campsite all night. Like most of the population in the quake area, we slept outside. The already quake-stressed buildings could not be trusted to survive a strong aftershock. Wes slept in a small one-person tent, I slept on the roof of the trusty Isuzu Trooper, and the medical team slept in the beds of their Toyota pickup trucks.
In Maniche we met up with Dr. Laila Bien-Aime and her team of dedicated nurses and support professionals. Each day the team would drive to an even smaller isolated village and treat patients who had not received any medical care since the quake struck. On a typical clinic day, the team saw lacerations, broken bones, contusions, and infections. Many patients were also treated for chronic health issues like high blood pressure. Chronic issues were becoming acute due to a lack of care.
After several days near Minache, Bien-Aime and I headed north to Baraderes in the Nippes Department to meet up with another of HHI’s mobile medical teams. The epicenter of the earthquake was very close now, and the destruction was even more evident. From Baraderes we journeyed into the mountains to the village of Mita. We hiked the last mile because high water made a river crossing in the vehicles impossible.
It was now a week after the earthquake had struck, but in the village we found several individuals suffering extreme injuries from building collapses. A woman with a possible fractured pelvis and a toddler with a possible spinal injury needed immediate hospital care.
With overland transport to Port au Prince out of the question, we decided to call in air evacuation. After locating a suitable landing zone on the village soccer field we contacted HERO, Haitian Emergency Response Operations, which dispatched a U.S. Army Blackhawk and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to our remote location. The HHI medical team facilitated the transport of six critically injured patients to hospitals in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is an extremely poor nation.
At 10,714 square miles it is only about twice the size of Douglas County, but with an estimated population of 11.4 million. The population is well over twice the population of the entire state of Oregon. Three-quarters of the people live on less than $2 per day.
Bien-Aime spoke about how she feels being a young Haitian doctor treating her fellow Haitians in a time of such extreme need.
“I really love Haiti, so I want to do everything for the people of Haiti,” she said.
The doctor says she lost some members of my family in the earthquake.
“I want to be there for all the people,” she said. “It gives me the strength to do my work. It’s the feeling of being Haitian.”
The recovery from the August earthquake in Haiti will be long and difficult, but the people are strong and resilient.
Heart to Heart International is on the ground now and will stay for the long term. My time in Haiti came to an end after two weeks.
One day I hope to meet up with my new Haitian friends under better circumstances.
One restaurant went to takeout only. Another had to bring workers over from a second location, which hasn’t opened yet, to help out. And a supermarket that had been open 24 hours was forced to roll back its hours, and now closes at 10 p.m.
Area businesses, which had already been struggling for the past 18 months or so to deal with the fallout from COVID-19, are now having to deal with the recent spike in cases, which has forced workers to stay home and made it extremely difficult to staff work sites.
At Brix Grill in downtown Roseburg, owner Misty Russell said she is dealing with daily staffing shortages due to employees missing work for a variety of COVID-related reasons. Those include workers testing positive, coming into contact with someone else who tested positive, or those needing to care for a family member who has tested positive.
“We are on a day-by-day basis and allowing all the flexibility our workers need,” Russell said. “We are trying to remain operational and keep jobs for the folks we do have, but things are very quiet. Understandably, this is a very tough time for our community.”
Area businesses were facing severe staffing shortages long before this recent spike in COVID cases, and some of it had nothing to do with the coronavirus. Economists say the retirement of baby boomers has left a national shortage of workers — there are 10 million job openings and an available labor force of eight million, one study found. The situation is similar in Douglas County.
Additionally, the disruption in college education for the past year means the normal group of college workers who could fill some of these vacancies are not available. In cities like Eugene, for example, students are not in town due to remote learning and therefore a large group of potential workers is not available to fill positions in bars, restaurants and fast food places.
Then there is COVID, which has magnified the local labor shortage and added to it. The on-again, off-again nature of the restrictions put in place by the state has made it difficult to maintain adequate staffing levels for businesses, and caused many to close. Schools being closed added a further burden on parents who may not be able to afford child care. And supplemental unemployment checks provided by the federal government made it more attractive for some workers to stay home, at least temporarily.
Then came the recent spike in coronavirus cases, which has been staggering. There were about 4,300 new cases reported in the month of August in Douglas County. By comparison, there were about 2,500 cases reported in the county in the first year of the virus.
That has caused an even greater shortage of employees in the area and caused local businesses to come up with creative solutions to deal with the shortage. The employee shortage, and ways of dealing with it, are especially noticeable in retail operations, such as restaurants and markets.
“I always maintain that restaurant operators are entrepreneurs,” said Greg Astley, a spokesperson for the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, which represents about 2,000 restaurants and 1,200 hotels in the state. “They’re innovative and creative and they find ways around these issues. It’s not always pretty, but they find ways to solve problems.”
CUTTING BACKOne of the most common ways restaurants have been dealing with the shortage is to cut back hours and services, he said. A number of area restaurants, including Kowloon restaurant at 2686 NE Diamond Lake Blvd., have gone to take-out service only.
“Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and staff shortage, we are temporarily doing take-out orders only,” a sign on the door of Kowloon’s explained. “We are sorry for any inconvenience. We look forward to serving our community in the near future.”
Astley said he knows of a well-known restaurant in Newport that would normally be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. but now operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., due to staffing shortages.
“Which means they’re missing out on some significant revenue from both breakfast and dinner. It’s a huge problem,” he said. “We’re also hearing about restaurants closing on Mondays because they have to give their staff a day off. They have to close to give them a day off.”
Astley also said that even restaurants that appear to be doing well could be struggling.
You see a line out the door so you think they’re doing well, but inside they’re not at full capacity because they don’t have the staffing,” he said. “There’s a line outside the door because they can only have so many people inside.”
Sam Gross, the owner of Loggers Tap House in Roseburg, came up with a unique solution to his staffing shortage. Gross is about to open a second Tap House in Winston, and he brought some of the new staff he hired for that restaurant to temporarily work at the Roseburg establishment, he said.
Even with those workers, Gross said that for the first time he had to close the restaurant for lunch Monday and Tuesday of last week because of a lack of staff.
“COVID affects our staffing whether someone tests positive, is waiting for results, or has family members that are positive,” Gross said. “Losing people for 10 to 14 days at a time definitely hurts our ability to operate and eliminates profitability because when we are paying sick pay and paying someone to cover the team member that is out, there isn’t enough margin to be profitable.”
HELP ON THE WAY?The shortage isn’t limited to restaurants. Sherm’s Thunderbird Market, located at 2553 NW Stewart Parkway in Roseburg, normally operates around-the-clock. But now it closes at 10 p.m., due to staffing shortages.
The store hired five new employees last week, but the roughly 170 employees still puts it short of the 190 workers the store would like to have, said Bob Ames, general manager for Sherm’s Thunderbird Market, Inc.
“We have never seen the shortage of applicants like we have had this year,” Ames said. “We currently have over 20 open positions, from full-time produce clerks to part-time courtesy clerks.”
To fill in the gaps the market has brought in employees from stores in Klamath Falls and Medford to work at the Roseburg store, Aimes said. They have also gotten some help from some of the suppliers, such as in produce, he said.
“We would still really like to get some more people hired, but the labor market is very tight,” Ames said.
Astley, with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said there may be some relief on the horizon in the form of federal funding.
The American Rescue Plan Act, which passed this spring, established a $26 billion fund to help restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open. About 1,000 restaurants in Oregon received money from that program, but many more did not, Astley said.
Astley’s group and others are asking Congress to replenish the program with another $40 billion in funding, money which would go to restaurants that did not get funds from the act the first time around.
Whether that push proves successful or not, Astley said it’s important that the general public understand the huge challenge restaurants and other businesses are facing due to COVID-related staffing shortages.
If nothing else, show some compassion, he said.
“It’s one of those difficult situations. The operators don’t want to be short-staffed, but a lot of it is out of their control,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can given the situation they’re in. Just be kind.”