When we think of the word “free,” we associate no obligation to the term. However, in the Dominican Republic, the people who use the public hospital at no charge must come prepared. Linens, towels, supplies for care, food, and clothing are the responsibility of the patient. Feeding and bathing are the responsibility of the patient’s family. For most adults, oxygen is in very short supply. Only the babies and children get special consideration. A free cup of soup for each patient was being distributed during our visit, which was an improvement over previous years. Materials for making a cast and IV meds must be provided by the patient. We donated 3 suitcases of medical supplies to help with the supply shortage. Though these hospital practices may shock us, this is a way of life for the Dominican people.
After lunch, we visited an old convent that had a renewed purpose by the Catholic Church. Sister Tamara shared the history of the convent and the work that has been going on for the last couple of years. There is a reduced-cost pharmacy available providing, for example, vitamins for the children at drastically reduced prices. Doctors, nurses, and dentists donate time to do consultations and to provide medical services to the people. Even chemotherapy is offered on the premises a couple of times each month to help those get treatment that they might not otherwise be able to afford. There is a small warehouse behind the convent used for medical supplies that are donated and for those purchased by the church. Donated supplies are divided by volunteers and staff and distributed to hospitals in need where they are used by the nurses for shut-in visits. There is no waste, and everything has a purpose. The Sisters donated some nutrition boxes to Dove Missions while we were there.
We loaded the donated items onto the bus to travel with us when we returned to Dove Missions for our late afternoon visit. We were able to complete a few more assessments of the children before calling it a day. The smiles and big hugs from the children were infectious. Each day, we get love on arrival and as we leave. Priceless!
It was a full day with much to process in regards to the delivery of health care in the Dominican Republic. We saw a culture that is very different from that in the United States in terms of how the people live, eat, play, and care for the sick or injured. They are a resourceful and resilient people.
By Deborah S., Nursing and Gerontology Major, and Brittany C., Gerontology Major
(Follow the experiences of our students as they have been serving in the Dominican Republic during spring break. Visit the blog at the Barton College School of Nursing.)