Essex man, nonprofit sends medical supplies to aid quake victims in Haiti

Aug. 19—BEVERLY — A nonprofit based in Beverly is preparing to ship hundreds of pieces of desperately needed medical equipment to Haiti on Saturday to treat the thousands of people who were injured in last weekend's earthquake.

Build Health International has been packing up the equipment over the last few days in its warehouse inside the Cummings Center. It includes operating room tables, blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters, sterilizing machines and surgical kits.

"Anything to do with surgery," said Build Health International co-founder and managing director Jim Ansara.

The relief shipment will be the latest, and largest, sent by Build Health International since the earthquake devastated the country last week. It has already sent several smaller shipments.

Build Health International is well positioned to respond to the latest crisis in Haiti. Ansara, who lives in Essex, started the nonprofit along with Dr. David Walton in 2014. The organization has built more than 60 medical facilities in Haiti and has completed more than 150 projects in Haiti, Latin America and Africa.

BHI has more than 100 staff based in Haiti, many of them Haitians, and had been working on a half-dozen building projects when the earthquake struck over the weekend.

"We started responding immediately Saturday morning," Ansara said. "By mid-day we had people mobilizing and plans in place. We started flying people to Haiti (from Beverly) on Sunday."

Ansara said BHI is supporting two of its primary partners — Boston-based Partners in Health and Newton-based Health Equity International — with medical equipment, medicine and logistics. Partners in Health supports 12 hospitals in Haiti, while Health Equity International operates St. Boniface Hospital in southern Haiti.

BHI relies on Boston-area hospitals to donate medical equipment. The organization already had hundreds of pieces in its warehouse for use in future projects, but is now sending much of it to Haiti in response to the emergency.

Earlier this week, four medical students from Massachusetts General Hospital came to Beverly to identify and sort surgical tools so they could be sterilized and placed in surgical kits. A biomedical engineer tested the donated equipment to make sure it worked properly.

Build Health International has flown several of its Beverly-based workers to Haiti to assist with logistics. The organization has a full-time team of mostly Haitians who have been working in the country for the last 10 years designing, building and maintaining health-care facilities.

"That team went through Hurricane Matthew (in 2016)," Ansara said. "It's very challenging, but not new."

Ansara said none of the 60 buildings that BHI built, including those in the earthquake zone, suffered any structural damage in the earthquake. He said the facilities are relatively simple buildings by U.S. health care standards, "but when it comes to resilience in terms of earthquakes and hurricanes, we're sparing no expense."

Harry Wieman, BHI's chief operating officer, said BHI staff members have been checking buildings for signs of structural damage.

"Most people are sleeping in the streets because they don't trust the buildings," he said.

Wieman said getting the medical equipment to hospitals and medical clinics in Haiti is expensive and challenging. He said helicopters will take the equipment from Port-au-Prince to the medical facilities because the roads are difficult, if impossible, to travel, in part due to gangs.

Ansara, who started BHI after retiring as head of Shawmut Design & Construction, said he is worried not just about the immediate damage caused by the earthquake but the long-term health implications for one the world's poorest countries.

"It's not just the people killed and injured in the earthquake," he said. "It's the hundreds of thousands of people who don't have shelter, running water, food. So many of them are subsistence farmers and a lot of their crops were destroyed by the earthquake and the tropical storm. We're worried about famine."

Still, Ansara said, he continues to be inspired by the determination of the Haitian people in the face of so many devastating setbacks.

"It's hard to describe but the resilience and toughness and hope of everyday Haitians is just incredible," he said. "They're people of great faith. We have to just keep working."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535,, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.