SANTA ELENA MEDICAL CENTER


Written By:  Maria Cardinale Curreri 1/2009

OCIMA provides the primary support for a small health clinic in Santa Elena in the department of Peten.  Santa Elena is a poor city, just a short walk across a causeway to its sister city of Flores — a popular tourist destination — punctuating the differences between those who have and those who have not.

Although small by U.S. standards, there are no such other medical facilities within hours, and for the people it serves, other private facilities are not an option due to cost.  The health clinic serves an average of 50 patients each day.  A dentist, gynecologist, pediatrician and general practitioner (all Guatemalan) are on staff at the clinic and available for consultations and exams Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until noon.  Specialists (e.g., cardiologists, neurologists, etc.) visit on a regular basis, typically one day each month, and are available from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on those days.  The clinic publishes a flyer to let people know which dates the specialists will be at the clinic so that they can plan in advance.

Due to its non-profit status, the clinic is not required to pay tax on medications.  In addition, the major pharmaceutical companies provide good discounts.  As a result, the clinic is able to pass along significant savings to its patients, and when necessary, the clinic provides the medicines well below cost, or gratis.

The clinic is located just a half-block away from the girls’ orphanage (which we also support) and is run by the same Dominican sisters.  In addition to the doctors, the clinic is staffed by an administrator (Sister Marcella), four Guatemalan women who man the pharmacy and reception area, and a security guard in the evenings (together with three dogs).

All this requires money — not only for the medicines and medical supplies, but also for the day to day operations of the clinic, such as salaries, computer software/hardware and supplies, electricity, and building maintenance.  The clinic bears the name El Dispensario Diocesano Hermanas Dominicas (i.e., Diocesan Clinic of the Dominican Sisters), but little or no financial aid actually comes from the Roman Catholic Church.  The sisters must use their influence to raise the monies necessary to run the clinic.  The services provided by the clinic are completely dependent on the monetary support from organizations like OCIMA.

Since early 2004, OCIMA has been the primary benefactor of the clinic, providing the majority of funds needed to sustain and grow this important health care facility.  Prior to OCIMA’s involvement, the clinic was very limited in the services it was able to provide.

In 2004 and 2005, OCIMA financed significant refurbishments to the already existing facility, and at the same time, the facility was increased to three times its original size.  The expansion included: (1) a waiting area (previously, there was no waiting area other than the open air); (2) construction of a separate two-story building to increase the number of exam rooms and to provide three individual residences (each with a bedroom and bathroom) for extended visits by medical personnel; and (3) the addition of specially constructed rooms for x ray, MRI, mammography and ultrasound machines.  The special construction was required to provide adequate protection for hospital personnel and anyone in the vicinity of these various devices.

There were no x-ray, MRI, mammography or ultrasound machines to fill the rooms when we started construction – just a hope that one day the rooms would be filled.  The clinic now boasts an x-ray machine (donated by the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation in 2005) and an ultrasound machine (donated by OCIMA).

The clinic still needs mammography and MRI machines and there are empty rooms waiting for these very generous donations.  MRI machines are approximately $250,000 U.S.  This amount is more than OCIMA raises in one year, and it will take a very special donation in order to make this dream a reality.

We’re working toward a first class clinic in the middle of a rain forest which will treat about 20,000 to 30,000 patients each year.