Hospitals and clinics in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — often suffering from a shortage of medical professionals, supplies and equipment — have received a boost from Louisville, Ky., through a partnership between SOS and the Catholic Second Wind Guild.
SOS, which provides surplus medical supplies locally and overseas, and the Catholic Second Wind Guild — a ministry created by Father J. Ronald Knott — shipped close to $1 million worth of medical supplies to the island nation between 2017 and 2020. The most recent shipment arrived last month.
“Health is one of the big issues. Nursing homes, prisons and hospitals are the three places you don’t want to go (on the island),” Father Knott, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, said during a recent interview. “Whatever problems we have here, it’s 10 times worse there.”
Most of the supplies and equipment are being used at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital located in Kingstown, the capital city. They include wheelchairs, ultrasound machines, incubators, bassinets, surgical equipment, hypodermic needles and rubber gloves. Supplies were also sent to smaller clinics on St. Vincent, said Father Knott.
Father Knott said people in the island nation oftentimes just “do without,” because many things are out of reach. Import taxes drive up the cost of products, which makes it difficult for individuals to afford much. Father Knott said that he’s heard about surgeons having to rummage through storage units to find equipment they need.
During the summer of 2019 a small group of volunteers — including Tim Tomes, the archdiocese’s archivist — traveled to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to assess the best way to help the island’s impoverished people in the future.
Tomes said in a recent interview that the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital is located in Kingstown’s downtown area and “they see everyone.”
Sick individuals line up and wait outside. The facility is “barebones” with some hallways that open to the exterior, making a sterile environment difficult, he said.
“It’s known as the worst hospital and it’s not the one you want to be in,” said Tomes. “The medical staff try to offer the best care with what they have and they are appreciative of any equipment, even if it’s used.”
That’s why the partnership with SOS is so important, Father Knott noted.
The Catholic Second Wind Guild, which Father Knott started in 2015, pools the expertise of retired and working laypeople as well as retired priests, deacons and bishops to help support institutions on St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We don’t help individuals. We help institutions, which in turn help everybody,” said Father Knott.
The guild supports the Diocese of Kingstown, including schools and orphanages. Father Knott started working with SOS in 2017 to get medical supplies and equipment to the island. The guild raised about $17,000 to ship two of the containers.
Father Knott coordinated the shipment of the third container, but it was paid for by the government on the island. His goal is to get the institutions to help themselves with support from the guild.
Denise Sears, president and chief executive officer of SOS, said working with Father Knott has facilitated the process of shipping to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Father Knott has such a commitment to the mission that it facilitates the whole process,” said Sears in a recent interview.
Father Knott’s relationship with individuals on the island has also made it easier to get the supplies and equipment to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Cody Moran, SOS’ global health program manager, said it is a “good partnership all around.”
“From a logistical standpoint, he has relationships with ministers of health and people in their office. That helps us have a direct line of communication with the folks on the ground,” said Moran. “Father Knott is really passionate about working with us and helping folks down there.”
In addition to medical supplies and equipment, SOS’ policy allows for other items to be shipped in the same containers.
Sears said this flexibility sets SOS apart.
“What differentiates the way we are able to work with our partners is that we will incorporate other resources into our shipment, even if they are resources we don’t have here that our partners have been able to gather,” said Sears. “That flexibility has allowed Father Knott to really provide a holistic response to the needs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Sears.
Along with the medical supplies were 200 chairs and liturgical furnishings. Father Knott has also sent laptop computers to keep clinics connected to the main hospital. These items are shipped duty-free and save money, said Father Knott.
Father Knott has been ministering in St. Vincent and the Grenadines since 2015, when he founded the Catholic Second Wind Guild. Through his trips to the island leading retreats for priests, Father Knott said he came to learn of the people’s struggles. He set out, he said, to help the local Catholic diocese, but Catholics are a minority on the island. Catholic Second Wind Guild helps the general population, he said.
Father Knott said the partnership between the Catholic Second Wind Guild and SOS will continue in the future because the need is great in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. To learn more about the work of SOS, visit https://soshealthandhope.org/. To learn more about the Catholic Second Wind Guild, visit fatherknott.com.