Supporting El Programa de Salud Comunitaria
The Casa de Salud
The new Casa de Salud is a hub of activity, with community health workers, village leaders and patients coming and going throughout the day. Having a central location from which to coordinate all of their programming was a long-held dream of the Community Health Workers (CHWs), and in 2017, they formally reached out to Petén Health to help turn this dream into reality.
Petén Health assisted the CHWs' purchasing land, and we funded the construction of the buildings. Volunteer architect Dr. Lucas Plumb designed the clinic building, and the Casa de Salud was inaugurated in February 2020, two years ahead of schedule.
The Casa de Salud houses the busy CHW teaching clinic, where CHWs attend to the needs of men, women, and children. Dental care, including cleaning, fillings and extractions, is also available. Emergencies come in at all hours, and the CHWs are committed to helping their fellow villagers whenever possible.
The central clinic also serves as a teaching and referral center. CHWs-in-training do shifts in this clinic, under supervision of advanced CHWs and visiting medical professionals. In this way, they gain experience so they can go back to their communities and provide similar service. The clinic is also a reliable place for CHWs to refer patients whose medical needs are more than what can be taken care of in the villages. Patients can rely on encountering an experienced, empathetic health worker who understands first-hand the challenges of subsistence farmworkers in Petén.
In addition to the clinic, the Casa de Salud has a large, open-air classroom and dormitory space for CHW students who travel in from distant communities for training. Village leaders are also able to take advantage of this friendly, safe space to stay when community business keeps them in town overnight. The Casa de Salud has quickly become a vital center of community services.
Teaching and Telemedicine
The training program for a community health worker is three years long. The CHWs travel in from their distant villages to attend week-long courses every 2 months.
The topics have been honed over the years to quickly provide the CHWs with skills that can be life-saving in the communities, such as how to treat deadly intestinal and respiratory illnesses. Other topics include nutrition, chronic diseases, first aid for emergencies, laceration repair, and childbirth.
While the courses are as practical as possible, nothing can replace real experience. Between courses, the students come to the Casa de Salud to practice what they’ve learned in the clinic, under the supervision of advanced CHWs and visiting medical professionals.
Several international physicians and advanced healthcare workers make regular trips to Petén to conduct courses and consult on difficult cases. Thanks to new cell towers, we now are able to stay in day-to-day contact via telephone, text, email and video conferencing. This enables the health workers to get professional consultation on complex cases without leaving the village.
It costs $3,800 over three years to fully train and equip one community health worker. There are many villages without a CHW and El Programa de Salud Comunitaria leadership is actively recruiting students for the next class of trainees.
Using finely-tuned medical protocols, the community health workers (CHWs) provide emergency and primary health care for their neighbors.
The goal of Petén Health and El Programa de Salud Comunitaria is to have health care available to people where they live. CHWs make house calls when necessary and usually care for patients in their own homes. Many CHWs have built small clinic rooms on to their houses, and some communities have come together to construct small clinics where patients can be cared for.
A team of advanced community health workers visits the village CHW regularly to help with challenging cases, and the village CHWs travel in to the program’s centrally located Casa de Salud on a regular basis to staff the clinic there.