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Banda Aceh Hospital Trying to Cope With Worker Shortage


In the Indonesian province of Aceh, authorities are struggling to restore basic social services to the one million people who lost their homes and jobs to the tsunami. Scott Bobb visited the main hospital in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, a month after the disaster, and reports on how local staff and foreign volunteers are trying to cope.

It is a hot, humid morning in the emergency ward at Zainoel Abidin Hospital, the main hospital in Aceh. Dr. Rob Fuller, an American volunteer, desperately needs a place to treat an emergency case.

All the beds are taken. The earthquake and tsunami that hit Aceh's coast in December left the hospital knee-deep in mud. Of the original 400 beds, there are only 120 now.

Dr. Fuller says a middle-aged woman was brought in confused and unable to walk. "She has what we think is a brain tumor or a disease that is known as a pseudo brain tumor, which is not actually a brain tumor. And we're hoping to do a procedure that'll let us know which of the two she has, neither of which are very easy to treat down here," said Dr. Fuller.

Rebecca Goodman, an American nurse, has been helping out for the past two weeks. She says of the hospital's 250 nurses only 30 have reported for duty.

"We've been able to supply some nurses that can come and give them a little bit more care than they would normally get because of the shortage. Because a lot of the nurses at this hospital, unfortunately, are no longer here," said Rebecca.

The hospital had 900 employees, but 150 were killed in the tsunami and hundreds more are missing. She says more Indonesians are needed because they communicate better with patients and families.

Indonesian volunteers have responded to the call. Some of them staff the makeshift outpatient clinic. They decide who should be admitted to the over-crowded hospital. Besides the everyday cases, the hospital is still treating victims of the tsunami. In the children's ward, volunteers from Belgium help out.

Sixteen-year-old Yusnidar is caring for her younger brother, Muzakkir. When the tsunami hit she climbed onto a roof. But Muzakkir missed and swallowed a lot of dirty water. "Both our parents died in the tsunami. I have to take care of the family now," said Yusnidar.

Dr. Rusmunandar is the hospital's director. He says when he saw the devastation of the tsunami, he thought the hospital was finished. "At that time, I (could) only sit. I don't know what to do. And I think that I nearly (can't) imagine that the hospital can come back again," said Dr. Rusmunandar.

Dr. Rusmunandar is grateful to those who have helped restore some services, but he says more help will be needed. "We need assistance for training the nurses, at least 100."

There are pledges of aid, in particular from the German military, which has set up operating rooms in tents.

But given the scope of the devastation, volunteers like nurse Goodman will be needed for some time.

"This is what I became a nurse for. It's to take care of people and here you feel like you're actually doing what you were trained to do. You're not worried about the paper work. It's true nursing care," said Ms. Goodman.