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U.S. military: Evacuations of injured Haitians suspended

By Susan Candiotti and Rachel Streitfeld, CNN
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Airlifts of injured suspended
  • White House spokesman says flights temporarily suspended due to lack of space
  • Earlier, U.S. military said flights stopped because some states won't accept Haitian nationals
  • White House working with states, NGOs, Haitian government to provide care, spokesman says
  • Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has asked federal government to shoulder some cost of care
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Port-au-Prince

Washington (CNN) -- Flights transporting critically injured Haitians into the United States have temporarily been suspended because of logistical issues, including a lack of space, a White House spokesman said Saturday in response to reports of a dispute over who would pay for patients' care.

"There has been no policy decision by anyone to suspend evacuee flights -- this situation arose as we started to run out of room," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Saturday. "Agencies across the [U.S. government] are working on solutions such as standing up hospitals for the critically ill in Haiti."

But the U.S. military said Saturday that the flights were stopped Wednesday because "some states are unwilling to allow entry for Haitian nationals for critical care," according to Navy Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Command.

He declined to say which states have objected to receiving injured Haitians.

Aandahl appeared to back off those statements later Saturday, saying, "All I do is move patients."

A story in Saturday's New York Times first reported the suspension of flights.

Vietor said the White House is working closely with states, international partners, nongovernmental organizations and the Haitian government to provide medical care to victims of the January 12 earthquake that devastated much of the country.

"States have been great partners in helping the response efforts and helping the people of Haiti," Vietor said, adding that officials are working to offload patients from the Navy's hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, to free up space for the critically injured.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of caring for Haitian patients.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday that CNN obtained, Crist asked that the federal government activate the National Disaster Medical System to provide reimbursement to Florida and other states for taking in these patients, who have no insurance.

In the letter, Crist said he had learned of a federal plan to evacuate between 30 and 50 critically ill patients per day from Haiti.

"Florida does not have the capacity to support such an operation," Crist wrote. "Additional factors complicate Florida's current healthcare system capacity and we are at a current peak from winter tourism and seasonal residence migration."

On Saturday, Florida officials said the state remains committed to assisting Haitian earthquake victims and denied it had asked that the airlift be stopped because of a dispute over costs.

"The Direction from Governor Crist to the state team since this terrible tragedy occurred has been very clear, to assist and provide any help necessary to our neighbors to the east in Haiti," said David Halstead, the Florida official coordinating the state's Haitian relief efforts, in a statement.

"However, there remains a delicate balance of providing assistance and also ensuring we maintain adequate medical capacity to service the needs of the residents and visitors currently in our state," said Halstead, who called Crist's request to Sebelius "prudent."

A spokesperson from HHS did not respond to a request for comment.

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