Rain Forest Clinic Provides Much Needed Care
Daniels Hamant and Humberto Parra may have lived a world apart, but they inspired in their children a common cause—providing medical care to rural Bolivian villagers who would otherwise do without. Centro Medico Humberto Parra, a clinic located in south central Bolivia, bears the name of the father of the man who donated the land for the facility. The Daniels Hamant Foundation based in River Forest, Illinois, is the primary source of funding for the clinic; its name honors the father of Susan Hou, MD, a Chicago-area nephrologist.
Founders of Centro Medico, Dr. Hou and her husband, Mark E. Molitch, MD (wearing plaid shirt in photo at right), professor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, have seen their “rain forest” clinic register more than 19,000 patient visits since opening in 2001. Remarks Dr. Molitch, “My wife’s father had the kind of heart and spirit that would have loved this venture of ours.”
Centro Medico, located in Palacios, Bolivia, provides free and subsidized basic medical care and preventive medicine to the approximately 35,000 residents of Palacios and neighboring villages. In the middle of a jungle, the facility features a clinic building and a separate residence that houses volunteers from Bolivia and the United States. These individuals, working with a core clinic staff, donate their time and expertise to treating patients with conditions such as rheumatism and hypertension as well as local diseases that range from Chagas disease and malaria to dengue fever. The clinic includes two exam rooms, an inpatient room, a lab, and dental and ophthalmology suites. Plans call for constructing a surgical center that would ideally be staffed by volunteer surgical teams from the United States.
“Currently people either travel 25 miles to the local hospital for simple procedures or 70 miles to the city of Santa Cruz, which has a larger hospital. The problem is that most of our patients have difficulties finding transportation,” says Dr. Molitch, who travels to the clinic about four times a year. “Our hope is that if we build a facility, they [surgical teams]will come.”
A longtime dream to provide care for the underserved in the global arena became a reality for Drs. Molitch and Hou about 10 years ago when they were contacted by one of Dr. Molitch’s former endocrinology fellows, Moises Mercado, MD. Based in Mexico City, Dr. Mercado urgently needed the medical advice of Dr. Hou, director of the renal transplant program at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois; one of his fellows, Douglas Villarroel, MD, a kidney transplant patient, was not faring well.
Thus began a relationship, a friendship, and later a partnership with Dr. Villarroel. A native Bolivian, Dr. Villarroel shared with the couple the sad state of health care services in his homeland, particularly in the small remote villages outside of his endocrinology practice in Santa Cruz. With their new-found knowledge about this impoverished South American country, the two Chicago-area physicians decided to stop dreaming and start building Centro Medico with the assistance of Dr. Villarroel, who serves as the clinic’s director.
The clinic has become a labor of love for the Molitch-Hou family and, indeed, a unique learning experience for the Northwestern community. The couple’s son, Ethan Molitch-Hou, spent five months at the clinic after graduating with a film degree from Northwestern. While he had thought about entering medicine, his time at Centro Medico sealed the deal, according to his father. “After his clinic experience, Ethan thought medicine was ‘cool’ despite his parents,” chuckles Dr. Molitch. Enrolled in the Feinberg School’s MD/MPH degree program, Ethan is a third-year medical student. Inspired by his work at the clinic, he in turn influenced the summer plans of classmates Sara M. Medendorp and Lisa R. Jager.
“Lisa and I were looking for a project for the summer after our first year of medical school that would involve working with Spanish speakers,” recalls Medendorp (right in photo at left). “Learning about Centro Medico through Ethan, we asked Dr. Molitch what type of program we could develop at the clinic. He mentioned that patient education was needed, especially in the areas of diabetes and hypertension, and subsequent compliance with medication and lifestyle changes.”
The two medical students spent five weeks in 2005 holding educational meetings at the clinic and nearby villages, offering blood glucose and blood pressure screenings and creating community support groups that would encourage patients to track their blood sugar levels and blood pressure. “Sara and I did good work here….we are still seeing the benefits of our summer project,” reports Jager, who has taken a leave of absence from medical school to complete a master’s degree in public health at the Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno in Bolivia. “We originally set up diabetes and hypertension support groups in three locations near Centro Medico; two of these still continue today, and a new one spontaneously formed after seeing the previous examples.”
The “family ties” that help sustain and expand Centro Medico—which was constructed and designed with the assistance of Dr. Villarroel’s brother, a contractor, and sister-in-law, an architect—now include Jager’s parents. Her father, a colorectal surgeon, and her mother, owner and manager of an outpatient surgery center in the Indianapolis area, visited their daughter last year and saw the potential for a surgery center at the clinic site. Explains Jager, “My parents are providing their expertise in designing the suite.”
With a major operating room initiative ahead of it, Centro Medico continues to fulfill the dreams of Dr. Molitch and his wife. Although the clinic’s founders don’t “aim to build a Northwestern Memorial Hospital of the south,” they strive to provide the best care they possibly can, which is much appreciated by their patients.
“As part of my studies, I completed a survey of patient satisfaction at the clinic,” explains Jager (wearing bandana in photo at right). “I presented my results along with my classmates from the big, powerful city hospitals in Santa Cruz. The contrast was staggering! My classmates demanded to know how it was possible for the clinic to have such a high satisfaction rate. I am so proud to be associated with this clinic.”