The Hijas de Galicia Hospital, in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, suffered extensive damage during the tornado that hit the Cuban capital on January 27. Photo: Juvenal Balán

The effort made by the government and people of Havana to recuperate all that was lost at the Diez de Octubre Gynecology and Obstetrics University Hospital during the tornado that hit Havana on January 27, is not only an example of humanism – following the Cuban principle that no one is abandoned – but also of solidarity and organization in medical institutions.

The images that flooded the media a few hours after the catastrophe were shocking, but even at the most difficult moment, doctors and nurses at the institution (some injured) never wavered in prioritizing the health of patients and their companions.

“During the tornado, 196 patients were hospitalized here and thanks to the collaboration of the emergency team working at the time, every one of them was protected,” says Dr. Flora Vila Vaillant, director of the hospital. In the Neonatology ward there were 17 infants, two in critical condition. None suffered any type of injury.

In less than four hours all patients and their companions were evacuated. Photo: Yamil Lage

They were protected by the medical and nursing staff on duty that night, she adds.“In the wards, none of our women were injured. Some companions suffered minor injuries, which were sutured and attended by the staff present.”Thanks to the preparation of several entities, always ready to face disaster situations, and the coordinated work to save lives, other health care centers in the capital welcomed patients from the Hijas de Galicia, the name with which the Diez de Octubre Maternal Hospital is best known.

This was the first step that allowed the recovery work to begin immediately.“In order to continue assisting the significant number of women this hospital admits, adjustments were made in the National Health System: clinical specialties at the Enrique Cabrera National Hospital were transferred to other institutions and a strictly maternity center was set up there. Our patients were moved there, and for a month, general services were not offered; it functioned only as a maternity hospital.

The institution’s recovery has required an intense effort. Photo: Endrys Correa Vaillant

“To accomplish this, our medical and nursing personnel were mobilized, plus diagnostic means, including equipment. This allowed us to focus on the recovery.”

Regarding the speed with which patients were transferred, Dr. Vila commented:

“The hospital was evacuated in less than four hours, thanks to the participation of several entities. Without them, it would not have been possible: the firefighters’ rescue team, the medical emergencies unified system, the search and rescue team, the Red Cross. Patients were transferred to several obstetrics-gynecology hospitals in the country, without having to lament any loss of life or complication.”

Fortunately, there were no deaths when the tornado hit the hospital with all its force, but the facilities suffered considerable damage.

“The main damage we had was the loss of all the aluminum trim. Practically 90% of the glass windows were lost. Roofing was affected, the plumbing system was lost. Of our 74 water tanks, 80% were damaged, including the piping. The Human Milk Bank – the only one in the province – didn’t suffer any damage, but, yes, everything around it,” Dr Vila explains.

A national reference institution

With more than 100 years of experience since its founding in 1917, the Diez de Octubre Gynecology and Obstetrics University Hospital, while simultaneously attending to the population, trains undergraduate and postgraduate medical students, Cuban and from abroad. It has the capacity to admit 284 patients and some 5,000 births take place here every year.“There are six provinces that have that number of births. This is the second largest maternity hospital in the country, after the (Vladimir Ilich) Lenin (General University Hospital). We have a total of 284 budgeted beds, 37 non-budgeted, 10 rooms and five operating rooms.

“We serve a large portion of the population in the capital and are a reference center for low birth weight babies, so patients with pathologies related to very low birth rate from the provinces of Mayabeque and Artemisa come here,” Dr. Vila explains.

The hospital that is recovering, with the support of different state bodies and its 80% female staff, is also a reference center for the treatment of utero-cervical cancer, and houses the National Breastfeeding Training Center.

The hospital concluded 2018 with an infant mortality rate of 2.4 per 1,000 live births, and in January of 2019, according to statistics gathered before the tornado, 354 births were recorded, 261 of which were natural.

The government response

The first 72 hours after the tornado were decisive for the recovery: urgent tasks included assisting the injured; clearing debris and fallen trees; restoring electrical and telephone services; evaluating damage to homes and buildings; while guaranteeing food and shelter for those who lost everything. A call was made by the country’s highest leadership to ensure that everything repaired or reconstructed would be in better condition than before the tornado, and this has been done, not only in terms of housing, but also in facilities serving the population.“The Blas Roca and Julio Antonio Mella contingents were the main forces participating in repairing the hospital.

The joint work of all these enterprises meant that in less than a month we could re-open the hospital with 10% of the services.“Although the work is not 100% complete, we have already repaired what was damaged by the tornado, but we were given the opportunity to rehabilitate other areas that we had included in the hospital’s repair and maintenance program, and in this way we are reaching many more areas.

As such, the hospital is going to be almost completely renovated, a new hospital.”Dr. Vila recognizes that an effort of such magnitude, with the goal of having the institution operating at 100% in the shortest time possible, is doable only with the cooperation of the hospital’s staff, the political will of the country, the disinterested collaboration of other entities.

The hospital director offered “our gratitude to all the enterprises that participated in the recovery of our hospital, but if there had been no intention on the part of the state, the government, and the Ministry of Public Health to accompany us, it would not have been possible.

“I would also like to highlight the dedication of our workers, not only those who participated here onsite with the builders, but also those who were assigned to go to the National Hospital, in different conditions because it is farther away, to provide the same services, with the same quality, so we did not have to lament any death, any complication among our patients; to all the personnel who were on vacation or off duty that day, who heard the news and came straight here.

“We had workers affected, (their homes damaged). We have also assisted them, we have visited them, with donations, with support of all kinds and this is an expression of solidarity.“The tornado does not know what it did to this people. It awoke all our solidarity, all the spirit of humanism that this people has, all that spirit of responsibility and desire to act.”