Volunteer Spotlight: Deb Patten

December 3, 2020

Deborah Patten, MD, serves an essential role for Konbit Sante: The chief liaison to Maine hospitals and clinics, she coordinates the facilities’ donations of supplies and equipment that are needed by our healthcare partners in Haiti. She can often be found at our warehouse in Westbrook, dropping off a carload of donations and inquiring about what she should acquire next.

A Maine native, Patten has a Bachelor’s degree in biology and classical piano performance from Brown University and a medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in pediatrics at the Tufts New England Medical Center.

In 1981, she worked for one month in the rehydration unit of Hopital Generale (General Hospital) in Port-au-Prince under Dr. Jean W. Pape, a Haitian native who received his medical training at Cornell University and returned to Haiti as its first infectious disease specialist.

“The experience was beyond shocking,” she said. “The hot, small unit with a few metal cribs was without windows, electricity, or running water, and had no reliable supplies or staffing. UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] was sending electrolyte packets to be mixed with water, but potable drinking water was intermittently delivered. Every morning upon my arrival, there was a line of somber women with their severely dehydrated babies wrapped in towels. I would mix the solution and work with the mothers to administer it, and I would leave the unit only when every baby was treated and headed home.

“However, often upon my arrival the following morning, the same patients would be back. These children, who were chronically sick and undernourished, were returning to home situations with no potable water or essential resources. It was a heartbreaking revolving door.”

Upon her return the U.S., Patten worked in the community health system in Greater Boston before returning to Maine to open a private pediatrics practice in Bath, where she still resides. She then joined Martin’s Point Health Care Center in Brunswick, Maine, before retiring in 2017.

Throughout the decades, her mind kept returning to Haiti, and she wondered whether she had made a difference during the month she worked in Port-au-Prince. When she learned about Konbit Sante and its mission of strengthening capacity for a better healthcare system over the long term, she knew she had found a good fit for her volunteer work after retirement.

“What I learned [while in Haiti] was that, to make this work beneficial, the medical intervention must be comprehensive, long-lasting, and capacity-building. This is what Konbit Sante has been doing,” she said.

Patten met with then-Executive Director Nate Nickerson to explore Konbit Sante’s needs, and they decided that she could best serve the organization by being its liaison to Maine hospitals for securing donations of supplies and equipment, which are then shipped to our partner healthcare facilities in Greater Cap-Haitien depending on their needs.

“In visiting these various locations, I have enjoyed exploring the state and supporting Konbit Sante in their amazing work,” she said.

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