MIAMI — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday the federal government has agreed to reimburse the state for treating victims of Haiti’s earthquake.
The governor also said he never requested emergency medical evacuations be halted, only that the state receive help in responding to them. The flights were suspended for several days last week but restarted Sunday after the White House said it was told hospitals in Florida and elsewhere have enough space for the victims. One such flight was expected to arrive in Florida on Monday night.
“Florida never said we wanted to stop taking Haitians. All we said was that we would appreciate help continuing to help our friends from the island,” the governor said. “And that’s exactly what has happened.”
The governor said he did not know what triggered the suspension of military medical evacuation flights.
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Crist told reporters, aid volunteers and staff at Miami International Airport on Monday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told him the department has designated the state for National Medical Disaster System assistance. That will cover the estimated $25 million the state expects to spend on the repatriation and medical care of Haitian-Americans and other earthquake victims in critical condition.
Crist said the secretary told him “you can be assured Florida will be made whole.”
“There’s no question the state of Florida has taken on the lion’s share,” David Hansell, a deputy assistant HHS secretary who accompanied Crist, said of the evacuations.
Hansell said so far more than 20,000 U.S. citizens have been repatriated, with nearly all landing in Florida.
The military flights were halted Wednesday, a day after Crist told the HHS that Florida hospitals were reaching capacity. State officials said since the Jan. 12 earthquake, about 500 people have been evacuated to Florida for emergency treatment, half of whom were U.S. citizens.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, asked about the medical flights at a news conference Monday, said patients would be taken to hospitals around the country.
“One of the things we want to accomplish is doing that in such a fashion that patients are spread around the country so we don’t overload Florida and Florida medical facilities,” she said.
Hansell also said 578 Haitian children orphaned before the earthquake have been placed in the United States since the disaster struck.
Among them were 6-year-old Chrisly Cannon and his brother Jamesly 4, who waited Monday for a flight to their new home in Westminster, Colo.
Oblivious to the governor, they played with one another, fought over snacks and sought comfort in the arms of their adoptive mother, Laura Cannon.
Cannon, a manager at a Denver hospital, said she was inspired to adopt the boys by the ABC show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” which last year featured a family of children adopted from Haiti. She hadn’t expected the paperwork to go through until the spring.
“That is the one good thing in all of this, that I finally have the boys,” she said.