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Continuing Care – Extending the GMRP Reach

Feb 18, 2014

Judy and Bruce Newton

Judy and Bruce Newton

Making the essential connection for continued care

La Antigua, Guatemala – One of the most difficult elements of any civic organization’s overseas missions is to ensure that the effort is sustainable.

Over the decades of Rotary international projects, this one essential element has now become a critical way in which Rotarians are urged to assess their effectiveness. It is also a key point with which the Guatemala Medical Resources Partnership has grappled during the 10 years it has operated its medical mission.

But this year, the group was leaving Guatemala more confident that the people of the Oliveros area were left with options for continued care, particularly those 69 patients, who during this year’s weeklong mission were identified to be in need of surgery.

“We found Flori,” said Barbara Johnson, coordinator of the project.

Floridalma Quintanilla has become the GMRP’s continued care coordinator. A native of Guatemala, Flori has been working part-time in Santa Rosa de Lima and Oratorio, communities near Oliveros, for an organization called Faith in Practice. To extend her work to patients seen by GMRP was a natural fit, said Judy and Bruce Newton.

The Newtons have participated in GMRP for the majority of years it has operated and have frequented Antigua with foreign surgical teams. It was during a trip as interpreters for a Canadian surgical team that they met Flori at the Franciscan hospital in Antigua, Asociación Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro.

Except for a surgeon who performs cataract surgeries for free through a sponsorship fund set up by an American ophthalmologist, the area has few if any surgeons. As a result, the hospital hosts surgical teams from the US, Canada and Europe 40 weeks out of the year in order to serve the people in need of surgery.

Getting surgical care in Guatemala is an act of persistence and fortitude, say the Newtons, formerly of Madison and now of South Carolina.

First, patients must travel to Antigua for hospital care. That’s a two-and-a-half hour ride into the mountains. Most patients do not have their own transportation. Just getting them into an unfamiliar city is a feat, the Newtons say.

“It’s so complicated for people from the remote villages,” Judy says.

Flori will reduce that complication. She will consult with patients in their hometown and coordinate van and bus transportation to Antigua.

Unlike American hospitals, there is little room for pre- and post-operative stays in the hospital. Once in the big city, patients must find a place to stay, food to eat and navigate a very complex medical system.

Here, too, Flori will be instrumental in assisting them.

Through Flori, the GMRP has discovered Casa de Fe (House of Faith) operated by Faith in Practice, a charitable nonprofit organization out of Houston. For $6, Casa de Fe will provide a bed, meals, spiritual support and practical information to patients traveling to Antigua for surgery. The patient can bring one companion to help and stay at the Casa before and after surgery. There is no nursing care. It is provided by the companion, often a family member.

The Thiensville-Mequon Rotary Club has donated $300 to provide care for 50 patients this year at Casa de Fe.

For Americans, it may not seem as though surgery is expensive. The hospital charges about Q1,500 (Quetzales – the Guatemalan dollar), about $200 in US money, for surgery. Still, that is far beyond a villager’s ability to pay.

Bruce Newton explained that Flori will consult with the patient to discover how much she or he can pay for an operation, then negotiate with the hospital social workers to whittle down the amount necessary for the operation. GMRP will work at bridging the gap in expenses between the hospital negotiated amount and what the patient must pay.

In addition, the GMRP will pay a small monthly stipend to Flori for her work as coordinator. The hope is that the cost to have this extended care will be raised by the Wisconsin Rotary Clubs participating in the project and other people passionate about the mission.

Navigating the hospital system is an immense problem, Bruce said.

“People arrive at the hospital in the morning. The place is packed,” he said. “They must stand in line, find out the cost they need to pay for a pre-operative test or procedure, come to the cashier to pay, stand in line for the next procedure, pay again and finally get an assigned appointment that week for surgery.”

“Everything takes all day,” Judy added. “Flori will be with them to help them through this system.”

During an earlier evening in Oliveros, Flori met the GMRP volunteers. A mother of three teen-aged boys, Flori spoke eloquently about what drives her to travel days apart from them in the city to serve the people in outlying areas.

“I feel I was called by God to do this work,” she said. “I am honored to be a part of this group.”

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