Crist says arms are open to quake victims needing medical care

MIAMI — The U.S. military will resume bringing Haitian earthquake victims to the United States aboard its planes for medical treatment, ending a suspension that lasted several days, the White House said Sunday.

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The military had brought about 435 critically injured Haitians to the United States aboard its planes before halting the flights Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said. Since then, at least a handful of patients were flown on civilian aircraft, and other flights continued to carry U.S. citizens and other mostly noninjured passengers.

Late Sunday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the medical airlift was on track to resume by early today. The White House received assurances that additional medical capacity exists in the United States and among its international partners.

"We determined that we can resume these critical flights," Vietor said. "Patients are being identified for transfer, doctors are making sure that it is safe for them to fly, and we are preparing specific in-flight pediatric care aboard the aircraft where needed."

Exactly what led to the suspension of medical evacuation flights was unclear, though military officials had said some states refused to take patients. Officials in Florida, one of the main destinations for military flights leaving Haiti, say no patients were ever turned away. The suspension took effect, however, after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist sent a letter Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the state's hospitals were reaching a saturation point.

The letter also asked for federal help paying for patient expenses — a request Crist on Sunday said could have been misinterpreted. He also said federal officials have indicated he would receive help covering the costs, totaling more than $7 million.

Crist told ABC News' Good Morning America on Sunday he was puzzled by the suspension. Military planes carrying 700 U.S. citizens, legal residents and other foreign nationals landed in Central Florida over the past 24 hours, and three of those people required medical care at hospitals, state officials said. Florida, however, had not received any critical patients needing urgent care since the halt, said Sterling Ivey, the governor's spokesman.

"We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and are happy to continue to do so," Crist said.

In other news Sunday

• Individual hospitals were able to arrange private medical flights — such as one that brought three critically ill children to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

• Ten U.S. Baptists detained trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without government permission say they were just applying Christian principles to save the children. "In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing," Orphan Rescue Mission spokeswoman Laura Silsby told the AP from Haiti's judicial police headquarters, where she and others were taken after their arrest Friday night trying to cross the border into the Dominican Republic.

Crist says arms are open to quake victims needing medical care 01/31/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 8:41pm]

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