WASHINGTON — Medical evacuation flights from Haiti are scheduled to resume early Monday, almost a week after they were suspended amid finger-pointing among state and federal officials and the military.
"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,'' White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Sunday evening.
He said the flights would resume by 5 a.m. Monday.
"Florida is identifying specific receiving facilities. . . .'' Vietor said. "We are working with the Haitian government and the international community to meet this urgent need and save lives.''
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Obama administration officials said Saturday that the flights ceased Wednesday because of logistical challenges, not because of questions over who would pay the hospital bills in the United States, as the military had said earlier that day.
Almost all the patients had been sent to Florida hospitals, mostly in South Florida.
One surgeon in Haiti angrily predicted that 100 or his patients injured in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake Jan. 12 would die if military flights did not resume quickly.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, speaking at an event Sunday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, said he would meet Monday afternoon with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to finalize the detail of who will pay the brunt of cost for the treatment of Haitian earthquake victims.
He said he continues to support the medical rescue of Haitians, and is "very proud of the contributions Florida has made to the crisis.''
Crist had been in talks with Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the weekend to clear up questions of how the Haitians would be brought to the United States, where they would be treated and funding issues.
The Obama administration's announcement Sunday about the resumption of the flights came just hours after former Federal Emergency Management Director R. David Paulison -- who won praise for leading FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- said he was worried that the response in Haiti was too haphazard.
Paulison, who now works with the Command Consulting Group, which focuses on security issues, said the administration needed to act quickly or risk looking insensitive to the situation.
Paulison said he feared the American response to the disaster has been "a little timid."
"I would personally like to see the U.S. take a much larger role because of our relationship with Haiti,'' he said. "I do feel we have not taken the leadership role that this country could take. Neither has the United Nations put together an international coalition to run it.''
Vietor, the White House press secretary, said Sunday that U.S. personnel had treated almost 23,000 patients in Haiti and brought to the United States hundreds whose medical needs could not be met in Haiti.
"Given concerns about the strain on domestic health capacity,'' Vietor said, "we worked to increase cooperation with our international partners, [nongovernmental organizations] and states to expand access to additional facilities to care for Haitians who were gravely injured in the earthquake."