Opening the Door for Haiti: A Conversation with Father Rick Frechette

A knock on the door of Father Rick Frechette’s home in Haiti could mean many things.

It is often someone in medical crisis, seeking care in a desperate situation. Often, it’s a woman, about to give birth.

This happens so often that Frechette keeps a midwife kit next to his door.

Where most people would keep their keys and discarded mail, he keeps clamps and surgical gloves. He seems ready to serve at all times, adjusting his life to accommodate the needs of others.

Father Rick treats a young patient in Haiti. (St. Luke Foundation for Haiti photo)

Frechette was first confronted by the vast need for medical services in Haiti while working in Haitian orphanages as a priest.

In the United States, there is one doctor for every 500 people. In Haiti, there is one doctor for every 15,000 people.

In Haiti, even if someone gets to the hospital and is able to pay for care ‒ a tall order for many who lack transportation and disposable income ‒ there may be no doctor to see.

Frechette wanted to do more.

At the age of 36, he enrolled in medical school in the U.S. and returned to Haiti a few years later with a medical degree.

The doors to medical facilities operated by St. Luke Foundation for Haiti are always open to patients. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)

He established the St. Luke Foundation, an organization that now operates hospitals, satellite clinics, and medical outreach programs across the country, and cares for 60,000 patients a year.

In the years the hospital has been in operation, it’s never been closed a day. The facility, like Father’s Rick’s home, always has an open door, no matter what. It even remained open during the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.

In the earthquake’s aftermath, Direct Relief mobilized medicines to bolster the care provided by St. Luke and continues to do so. Since 2010, Direct Relief has provided St. Luke with nearly $17 million in medicines, supplies, and financial support.

Having trained doctors ready to see patients is one part of Haiti’s patient-care puzzle. Another central piece is the quality of prescription drugs. With little oversight in Haiti to safeguard drugs, access to quality prescriptions can be a life or death situation.

“We have to be sure that what we’re putting in someone’s mouth is good for them,” he said, adding that that’s why the foundation relies on Direct Relief.

A young patient after making its way safely into the world at St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital, operated by St. Luke Foundation for Haiti. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief photo)

Frechette visited Direct Relief recently and spoke to the organization’s staff about his life and mission.

He described a landscape beset by challenges, from lack of day-to-day infrastructure to corrupt governments to natural disasters. “There’s nothing easy about the execution of it,” he said.

Yet Frechette isn’t cynical. In fact, his optimism about Haiti and the world remains high, a feeling that’s contagious to those he comes into contact with. His faith keeps him centered on the mission of serving the poor. A realistic perspective helps, too.

“I shed very fast the idea that I could change the world,” he said.

While some people or organizations may have a goal of ending childhood malaria worldwide, for example, Frechette’s goals place him in the present, with the patient right in front of him.

“I’m very happy to have cured malaria in that child,” he said. “It’s always very clear to us why we’re there.”

Those are the things that feed the soul and spirit, in spite of the challenges, and keep the work moving forward.