CRISIS IN HAITI: Feds to pay for quake patients’ Florida treatment

The U.S. government agreed Monday to pay for Haitian earthquake patients’ treatment in Florida — and to send some to other states — six days after Gov. Charlie Crist’s written request for federal relief.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it has activated much of its National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) “to help U.S. hospitals provide care to critically ill survivors.”

In a news release and at a Miami International Airport news conference Monday, Crist thanked HHS for its “quick response” to his Jan. 27 letter, and predicted that NDMS “will ensure that critically injured survivors of the Haiti earthquake will continue to receive the medical care they so desperately need.”

Assistance “from our federal friends and now other states that (NDMS) will be expanded to is incredibly important to Florida,” Crist said. “... I’ve been assured that Florida will be made whole.”

Florida has taken nearly all such patients so far — 526, according to Crist — at a cost of about $10 million.

Military medical evacuation flights out of Port-au-Prince stopped the day Crist sent his letter, which noted that Florida hospitals were “reaching saturation.”

Military officials said that with Florida hospitals unable to accept new patients, they wouldn’t send any — a decision that a prominent University of Miami neurosurgeon said could cost hundreds of lives among the seriously injured.

Spokesmen for several hospitals and administrators’ groups denied saying they wouldn’t take more victims.

At a Monday press conference organized by the Super Bowl Committee in Fort Lauderdale, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano called the decision to ground medical evacuation fights “a slight interruption’’ as officials sorted out logistics.

Flights resumed Monday evening, when 17 patients — 15 Haitians, 6 to 78 years of age, and two U.S. soldiers — flew to Palm Beach International Airport, most destined for hospitals in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Miami Children’s Hospital was expecting one child. The soldiers were heading for Walter Reed, the Washington, D.C.-area military medical center.

Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon said that with the disaster system in place, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of health-care costs for Haitians who qualify for “emergency Medicaid.” But the program is not retroactive, he said.

David Hansell, an HHS official, said that 19,440 of more than 20,000 Haitian-Americans repatriated since the earthquake are in Florida. The federal government has increased the state’s allocation of repatriation funds from $1 million to $25 million.

“There’s no question that the state of Florida has taken on the lion’s share of the relief and response to this crisis here in the U.S.,” Hansell said.