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Breaking News, Haiti 07/09/18

Annie Grossinger

 Photo courtesy of Steve Almasy and Keith Allen/CNN

Photo courtesy of Steve Almasy and Keith Allen/CNN

On behalf of the Community Empowerment community, I would like to express our sadness regarding the current situation unfolding in Haiti. As many of you know, the country is going through yet another round of devastation in the wake of a government hike of gasoline prices. The situation remains extremely unstable, with many Haitians confined to their homes due to widespread fires, looting, barricades and riots.  The political situation is unpredictable, with many indicators pointing toward destabilization for some time to come. 


To our Haitian friends, family, colleagues and patients, please know that Community Empowerment remains committed to supporting you through this difficult period.  Our hope is that the unrest comes to a calm with peaceful resolution and that you stay safe.


Stephanie Crane, MD

Save the Date!

Annie Grossinger

Art for Health is October 5, 2018! 


Street Art x Global Music

This year's Art for Health Benefit is merging our community roots with our global health ethos.  Local Chicago, Haitian and Dominican artists will share their works to visually connect our communities, including street art from all three locations.  Join us for special musical acts by Kreyol Roots, Microphone Misfitz and Doggybag, and celebrate Community Empowerment's work in the communities it serves.  
When: Friday, October 5 I 6 - 10 pm

Where: Prairie Productions, 1314 W. Randolph Street
Details: Tickets include (2) drinks and food; art is available for purchase

View more details or purchase tickets.

Progress in Peralta

Annie Grossinger

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CE is excited about the development of a few partnerships in the Dominican Republic (DR).  Recently, CE and Rush partnered with the Feltrex Foundation – the charitable arm of Feltrex, which is the largest pharmaceutical company in the DR – to provide Dominican doctors with conferences for post graduate medical education.  

The first conference, which focused on neurology, took place in March.  Rush’s Dr. Lauren Koffman and Dr. Starane Shepherd were among the speakers.  The second conference will focus on primary care and takes place in June. Dr. Stephanie Crane and Dr. Richard Abrams of Rush will be speaking.

On a local level, we’ve begun phasing out the primary medical care in Peralta as the community clinic has become sustainable.  The partnership with the Ministry of Health allowed for the hiring of a local physician, nurse, pharmacist, and community healthcare workers.  The physician, Dr. Amada, is originally from Peralta and was able to return to serve her community once the partnership was finalized. In fact, all the staff hired are local residents. The staff has been working with our primary care teams since October 2017.

As we begin to phase out the primary care, we have begun exploring new communities using a needs assessment process driven by Wendys and Alfredo.

The surgical teams continue to provide high yield surgery to patients without other realistic options for care.  In the last year, they’ve performed over 350 operations in multiple fields: ENT, Craniofacial Reconstruction, Orthopedics, Gynecology, Urology and GS.  Our community ties allow for targeted case selection and post-op follow-up. All cases performed in DR, in Taiwan Hospital and Sub-Centro de Salud in Peralta.

The electronic medical record (EMR) system, developed in partnership with Global Health Coalition (GHC), is up and running in Haiti after software improvements. CE & GHC are working together to engage the Dominican Minsitry of Health in a partnership to launch the EMR system in the Peralta clinic as a pilot to use in other government clinics in the DR.

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A New Clinic

Annie Grossinger

 A patient is shown her baby on a new ultrasound machine in the second clinic.

A patient is shown her baby on a new ultrasound machine in the second clinic.

As the Canaan/Jerusalem community in Haiti continues to grow, we are in the beginning stages of developing a second primary care clinic, named the Clinique Communautaire de Corail.  Currently, it’s located within Le Fleur’s Orphanage, and plans are underway for building a separate structure nearby. The first Jerusalem Clinic is now completely under the management of a local board.

Dr. Fiquita St. Paul is already seeing 15-20 patients a day, three days a week at the new clinic.  Recently, she was assisted by a CE team, which included Dr. Patricia Joseph, a local Haitian physician who was a longtime CE volunteer while she attended medical school.  The team saw over 100 patients a day.

To ensure our work continues to meet the highest yield needs, we are conducting community surveys, looking at demographics and biometrics of the catchment area.  The surveys will be eventually linked into the electronic medical record (EMR) system.

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A Community at Play

Annie Grossinger

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Since the 2010 earthquake, Madame LeFleur has run an orphanage in Jerusalem, Haiti – providing food, shelter and education for 40 - 50 children at a time.  Community Empowerment has provided primary care services since 2011. A couple of years ago, Madame LeFleur expressed a desire to give the children something on which to play.  Inspired by this idea, CE, led by Steve Wang and Taylor Massaro, raised the funds to build a playground.

In February 2018, the team of our volunteers joined a team of local volunteers to build a playground designed by structural engineer, Taylor Massaro.  Supplies were purchased from the US and Haiti. After much drilling, digging, priming and painting the playground was complete! Check it out below.

In addition to the playground, the medical volunteers created individual charts for all of the children (which they decorated), including growth and developmental assessments, and engaged in interactive health education sessions with the children aged 12-18 years old.

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Clinic Developments in Peralta

Annie Grossinger

We have more exciting news from Peralta as the agreement between the Dominican Ministry of Health and the clinic as resulted in the hiring of a physician, nurse and community healthcare workers.  Medicine will be arriving shortly as well.

On our recent trip, we had the opportunity to work alongside the new physician, Dr. Amada, who originates from Peralta. The Ministry’s official recognition of the Peralta clinic allowed her to return and work in her community.  The health care workers are also members of the community, such as Onassis, who has worked with the volunteer teams for years.  It’s been wonderful for the clinic to be able to employ locally.

We saw approximately 500 patients during out trip. Now that Dr. Amada is full-time, we hope to set up a telemedicine system where we can communicate with her in real-time, year-round to answer any questions or consult on cases. Additionally, we began research to study the effects of HTN on hearts, through the use of echo and EKG.  By drawing comparisons of rates of high blood pressure in the US, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, we hope to determine the factors contributing to this risk

The water business is still running smoothly. Over 14,500 5-liter bottles are sold per month.  The sales support the 20 families that work as water distribution point agents.  Recently, when the water system for the community faltered, the families provided non-potable water at no charge until it was fixed.

With each step, the Peralta clinic has gotten closer to becoming a self-sustaining system in which we are no longer needed.  As we wind down our primary care work there, we’re working with our local partners to assess new, potential communities to serve.  Stay tuned for more updates.


Dr. Babs Waldman

Interview with a Trip Leader

Annie Grossinger

An Interview with Maria Keegan

Nurse Practitioner and Trip Leader


When did you go on your first trip with Rush Global Health and Community Empowerment (CE), and where did you go?  

I went on my first trip to Peralta, Dominican Republic, in November of 2014.  I’ve been on eight in total.


For those that have never been, what’s Peralta like?

Beautiful.  The physical beauty of Peralta is tough to describe, and if I try to wax poetic about the baby donkeys on the road or the fruit trees or the mountains, I won't do it justice.  However, one thing that has really stuck out to me is the strength of the family structure in the community.  It’s why, despite having very few resources, patients can return over and over, year after year.  Their family members are putting their health first.


In what way do you work with CE?  

I'm the Program Manager for Rush Global Health, which partners with CE. I'm the first one in this role so it’s a little bit of everything, a Jack-of-All-Trades situation, which I really enjoy.  I do quite a bit of the logistics and coordination: getting teams travel-ready and making sure local CE leadership has the information they need to make the trip successful.  Additionally, I teach in the Rush Summer Institute.  Currently, I’m in the pilot phase for the RISE (Rush Interdisciplinary Service-learning Experience) program this fall, which I'm super excited about. 


From a trip leader perspective, why is a global health experience important? 

I really believe that sustainable, programmatic global health work can help shape better healthcare providers, who are more flexible in uncomfortable situations, and who understand the needs of underserved populations in a real, tangible way and who care to stay engaged with the needs of those communities.


What makes you return with CE each year?

I love that CE puts an emphasis on autonomy.  Meaning, the goal is for the communities in which we work to eventually take over the clinics and projects, and manage them independently.  In this way, CE is not a charity, it’s a community partner that invests in mutually beneficial relationships.  We have the privilege of learning how to be better healthcare providers while working in our partner communities and in turn, we work to offer our partner communities healthcare and service that is deserving of that privilege.  For me, it’s also personal.  I love the communities we work in and have gotten to know the members quite well.


What work have you found the most impactful?  

I have a hard time choosing between the primary care and surgical work.  Because my background is medical, I tend to be drawn to that work, which largely treats chronic illnesses in the community.  However, recently I joined some surgical teams and it was pretty incredible to see patients who would have either lived very uncomfortably or nearly died from a treatable condition, come out the other side of surgery with a new lease on life. 


You’ve seen the work in Peralta and Jerusalem from the beginning – what moment(s) stick out the most? 

I was blown away by Devin Mehta and Bobby Bacci’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system in Jerusalem.  A few years ago, this seemed like an impossibility.  Jerusalem doesn’t have electricity, let alone internet.  But Devin, a physician who has stayed engaged with the Rush Global Health Program after he left to pursue a cardiology fellowship, and Bobby, who works in electronic medical records, thought outside the box to create an innovative solution.  To see it emerge and become successful was inspiring. It reminds us to think outside the box with ways to improve the care we offer patients.  They saw a problem, used the skills they had and came up with a patient care solution that radically changed clinic workflow for the better.  


How do you see CE evolving over the years?  

Like the Rush Global Health Program, I believe CE is going to continue to see tremendous growth in the coming years.  Even though we’ve added several more trips a year, we haven’t met participant demand.  Meanwhile, Peralta is nearly self-sufficient so we are beginning to source new communities.  It’s already proven to be a replicable model in Jerusalem so now there is simply the task of finding new partner communities. 

High Rewards in Surgery

Annie Grossinger

 Mr. Isidro Ramirez, accompanied by his daughter, is recovered thanks to Dr. Steve Charous (right) and the global health team.

Mr. Isidro Ramirez, accompanied by his daughter, is recovered thanks to Dr. Steve Charous (right) and the global health team.

It’s a warm sunny day in the mountains of Peralta, Dominican Republic.  Like most days, music permeates the colorful streets.  Residents pull out plastic chairs and sit in front of their homes, waving to one another as they pass by.  But today is no ordinary day for Mr. Isidro Ramirez, whose ability to breathe has become nearly impossible.  Something is blocking the airflow into his trachea.  Swallowing is nearly impossible, and he has lost 30 pounds.

Mr. Ramirez had massive nasal polyps and his frail body was a testament to how long he had been suffering. It was Dr. Steve Charous, an ENT surgeon, who performed the life-saving surgery at the Peralta Sub-centro de Salud.  Dr. Charous was on his first trip to Peralta with Community Empowerment through their partnership with Rush University. Now, not only can Mr. Ramirez live, he can do so in comfort.

Mr. Ramirez's experience is not unique.  Approximately 300 high-reward surgeries were performed last year in the fields ofOrthopedic, ENT, General Surgery, Urology, Pelvic Reconstruction and Gynecology. Most remarkably, all the patients are doing well. 

For many, we offer the only affordable surgical option.  The demand is high, most patient waiting months to years for basic surgeries. Some surgical specialties, such as ENT, are not available at all. Fortunately, several new surgeons have joined this past year.  Additionally, we continue to receive residents from multiple surgical specialties, who get to learn and serve in an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural context.

As we begin to sunset our primary care program in Peralta, having achieved nearly complete self-sustainability through a partnership with the Ministry of Health, the surgical program continues to be a significant focus.  A third shipping container, provided by Project C.U.R.E. and filled with surgical equipment and dispensable supplies, will assist with capacity building at Taiwan Hospital in Azua.  This will enable our local surgical colleagues and CE volunteers to treat many more patients like Mr. Ramirez. 

- Stephanie Crane

A Reflection on Global Health

Annie Grossinger

 Photo provided by Anuhya

During the third year of my residency in internal medicine at Rush University, I had the opportunity to experience something that many young physicians cannot: a global health initiative. I am thankful for being in a program that allows residents to be able to travel to underserved areas around the world, while working to make a lasting impact on the health care system. Lasting impact on the health care system. This would have a completely different meaning to me by the time I completed my global health elective in Jerusalem, Haiti.

Prior to my trip, I was under an oversimplified impression that we would travel to an underserved area and treat patients with what we could, while patting ourselves on the back for helping others and enacting sizable change.  By the end of our week, I realized that a “lasting impact” meant so much more.

I was surprised and impressed to find that Community Empowerment has a continued interest in improving the health care facilities, despite having successfully built a stand-alone clinic months prior. For example, while I was there, the team was implementing an electronic medical record (EMR) system, which would improve continuity of care. As a result, I could use notes and data from prior clinic visits to treat patients. Instead of solely dealing with acute chief complaints, I could manage chronic disease maintenance as well. This was a new revelation for me. Being able to provide care longitudinally, by coming back every few months, is truly what it means to have a lasting impact.

Furthermore, I learned the value of testing and physical exams. Given the limited resources, it was often hard to tell whether the diagnosis was accurate or confirmed, so I learned to rely on history and the physical exam. Having to obtain our own vitals and urine dipsticks really emphasized how much we rely on other professionals, such as MAs, PAs and RNs, to make our own system run smoothly.

Since returning to Chicago, I’ve implemented some of the lessons I learned. My next rotation was on the HIV service at Cook County/John Stroger Hospital. Interestingly, the socioeconomic demographic was similar to the residents of Jerusalem. I began to evaluate the need of testing even more. For example, I found myself asking, “is this really going to change my management of patient care?” We often ask these questions when obtaining more intensive or high cost exams, such as MRIs, but rarely do we ask about smaller tests like blood draws, which still are a cost and resource burden for many. Furthermore, I prioritized patient comfort by trying to do more “lab add on” tests instead of subjecting patients to more needle sticks. Similar to Jerusalem, I found myself managing patients with available medications as the medicines I generally administer were not available on formulary. I was more comfortable with this approach having rotated through the pharmacy station in the Jerusalem clinic.

Through my experience, I’ve learned that it is a slow and arduous process to create a sustainable program where local physicians can be self-sufficient.  During a trip, we can only work to help fill the gaps of health care accessibility, but impacting the system at large requires long-term commitment.  But it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come as a team.  The standalone clinic, with its separate exam rooms plus the EMR system are examples of this progress.  I hope to be able to continue the lessons learned in my future practice and more importantly, return to practice medicine in global health.

- Anuhya Gampa, MD 

 Photo provided by Anuhya
 Photo provided by Anuhya