ASCA Chief Executive Officer Bill Prentice talks with One World Surgery (OWS) Chief Executive Officer Claire Cunningham from her home and the site of a future surgery center in the Dominican Republic. Bill and Claire discuss the resumption of OWS’s medical missions in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic, providing essential medical care through the COVID-19 pandemic and ASCA’s continued commitment to surgical missions in both countries.
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Bill Prentice: 0:37
Hi, my name is Bill Prentice. I'm the host of this episode of the ASC podcast and I'm CEO of the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, or ASCA. On today's episode, I'll be speaking with Claire Cunningham, the CEO of One World Surgery. For those not familiar with this extraordinary organization, One World Surgery organizes surgical and primary care missions of volunteer medical professionals to the Holy Family Surgery Center in Honduras, where they partner with local medical staff to provide much needed care to local residents. One World Surgery also leads primary care field missions in the community surrounding the site of their future surgery center and primary care clinic in the Dominican Republic, where medical missions are expected to begin in 2022. ASCA is a proud supporter of One World Surgery, and we helped to recruit physicians, nurses and other health professionals for missions in Honduras, and provide funds for both a scholarship program for volunteer nurses and the ongoing work of the organization. With that brief intro of One World Surgery, let me tell you a little bit about Claire Cunningham. As I mentioned a moment ago, Claire serves as the chief executive officer of One World Surgery, living the organization's mission and vision, including fundraising, operations and growth initiatives. Claire previously served as executive director of Project Cure, the world's largest distributor of donated medical equipment and supplies. She has spent her entire career working to improve global health and that work has taken her to over 30 countries. Last year, Claire relocated to the Dominican Republic with her husband and two sons, and they presently live next to the future site of the next One World Surgery center and primary care clinic. And she joins me now from there in their new island home and soon-to-be surgery center. Claire, welcome.
Claire Cunningham: 2:21
Thanks, Bill. It's great to be here.
Bill Prentice: 2:24
Claire, I'm really excited to hear about your progress in the Dominican Republic. But before we talk about that, can you tell us how One World Surgery has fared through the pandemic, what types of missions you've been able to host in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic, and what your outlook is for the rest of 2021?
Claire Cunningham: 2:42
Absolutely. So with the rest of the world, 2020 was an incredibly difficult year with challenges and so many uncertainties, and particularly the patients and communities we serve were disproportionately impacted. So while we had long waiting lists prior to the pandemic, these waiting lists have even expanded both in Honduras and in the Dominican Republic. But I'm very, very thankful and very grateful to share that since the beginning of 2021, missions have resumed in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic. And all along, we always continue to care for our patients in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic. And, you know, really I call out Bill, the silver lining of the pandemic was the sustainability and really the heart of our local team. So regardless of our inability to host medical missions while global travel internationally was on pause, our local teams never stopped serving the patients and communities in both the Dominican Republic and Honduras.
Bill Prentice: 3:48
That's great to hear that you were able to maintain that momentum and, God willing, will also be able to kind of get the other side of it, the international travel, going again soon and be filling missions to both Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Well, you're obviously no stranger to international travel and working in developing countries, but moving your family is obviously a big undertaking and commitment. How are you adjusting to your new home and community in the DR?
Claire Cunningham: 4:16
Well, it’s been an adventure. So we have two boys, a three-year-old and six-year-old, and we actually live in the middle of the sugarcane field. So we went from downtown Chicago to sugarcane fields in the Dominican Republic, and we're located at our partner’s home Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, it's a children's home. So there's 150 orphaned and abandoned children that are neighbors and really our new family here in the Dominican Republic. So, the boys have had beautiful built-in friendships immediately. And for me, it's just been such an incredible gift. My role often is, given my background is not clinical, I have now the opportunity day in and day out to see the patients that we are so blessed and privileged to serve. So seeing our frontline local team out in the communities and being able to host actually where we live medical mission volunteers has been amazing. So, while I wouldn't normally recommend moving or living abroad during a global pandemic, I still wouldn't change it for the world.
Bill Prentice: 5:26
Well, that's great to hear. Claire, before we proceed with some more questions, I want to stop here and pause and hear a word from our sponsor.
This episode of the Advancing Surgical Care Podcast is brought to you by Somnia Anesthesia, a national perioperative anesthesia management company, bringing advanced anesthesia and pain management techniques to surgery centers for 27 years. Somnia’s anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists integrate fully with ASC clinical teams to deliver safe, high-quality care. Learn how they do it at somniainc.com.
Bill Prentice: 6:08
So, Claire, let's talk about the new surgery center and clinic in the Dominican Republic. What can you tell us about the development process? And when do you expect to be able to begin seeing patients, particularly surgical patients?
Claire Cunningham: 6:20
Bill, it is so exciting. I actually was walking the site this morning and it's unbelievable to see the building go up. So we'll have a visitor center to host about 70 volunteers, our three-operating room surgery center and a primary care clinic. So, our primary care clinic will be open this summer and our goal is to serve our first surgical patient in the beginning of 2022. So, hopefully by first quarter, we'll have our ASCA volunteers down here serving our surgical patients in the Dominican Republic.
Bill Prentice: 6:57
That's excellent news and I can tell you on behalf of my ASCA volunteers, they're chomping at the bit to visit you in the Dominican Republic. Can you also give our listeners a sense of what travel and accommodations will be like for them in the Dominican Republic? Now for past travelers to Honduras, of which I'm one, One World got really high marks for everything from how well the trips were organized to the cleanliness and comfort of the accommodations to the productive and rewarding work that volunteers were able to do while in the country. How would you compare travel to and ultimately the work in the Dominican Republic?
Claire Cunningham: 7:32
Very similar, Bill. So what I'd say first and foremost, a gift of serving the patients out in the community, you will actually stay on the Nuestros Pequeños children's home. So just like in Honduras, you'll stay within our accommodations yet on the children's home. And what is different, where in Honduras for the entire week you stay on the ranch, in the Dominican Republic you're able to go out into the community. And the vast majority of the patients we serve are in bateyes, which are historic sugarcane worker towns, and just the level of poverty is absolutely profound, Bill. So what we've heard, we just finished our first primary care medical mission trip this week, and it's amazing to hear the impact that the volunteers had being able to go out and firsthand see the communities and homes of where patients live.
Bill Prentice: 8:27
Claire, that's really great to hear. And I can tell you having been to Honduras and just taking the bus from the airport to the surgery center and seeing the need out there was really eye opening and powerful. And so, I think being able to go to the Dominican Republic and actually go into those communities is going to make it even more profound how important this work is. And as you know, the last time I was in Honduras we had many of the ASCA Board with us on that trip, and I know they came back just really pumped up and excited to do more to help One World Surgery. And then of course, we had the pandemic, which really caused a lot of things to shut down. Knowing that you're now back to work in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic and looking for volunteers, not only for the remainder of this year but obviously next year and into the future, and thinking about obviously what's happened with the pandemic and the impact of COVID-19 on people's willingness to travel and perceptions about traveling around the world, what can you tell our listeners to give them comfort that they can get back on a plane and come do the great work that needs to be done in both Honduras and the Dominican Republic?
Claire Cunningham: 9:41
Absolutely. So, as we've been on this journey, we consulted with some of our corporate partners and thought leaders, such as ASCA, in the fields of surgical care and primary care to develop our phase plan to safely resuming medical missions. So, each phase includes certain restrictions and precautions to prioritize the safety of our volunteers, our staff, our patients and the children of NPH in accordance with CDC guidelines. So currently, we're in phase three of this plan, which allows up to 30 volunteers who fill critical roles for the mission. So the vast majority of our volunteers are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and additional precautions include masking, social distancing and hand cleaning, and restricted contact with the children of the children's home. And so we continue to monitor the latest guidance and best practices, and we will adapt our procedures accordingly.
Bill Prentice: 10:44
Well, thanks, Claire. I can tell you that I'm getting my second shot next week, and I can't wait to then hopefully be able to come visit you in the Dominican Republic and see firsthand the great work that you're doing. Claire, thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us on the ASC podcast.
Claire Cunningham: 11:00
Bill, I just want to say it's an absolute honor and it's a privilege. I think it says so much about ASCA and really the heart of your organization and your team. 2020 was a year we needed to do more than ever and you stepped up more than ever. And so on behalf of the patients and communities and even our neighbors, you are serving the most vulnerable communities globally and you truly are impacting and transforming lives. So just from the very bottom of my heart, I just want to say thank you to all your listeners. Thank you to you, Bill, and I'm just incredibly grateful for ASCA and our partnership.
Bill Prentice: 11:38
Well, I'm very pleased that we have developed this partnership and look forward to working with you for years to come. This concludes today's podcast. Before signing off, I'd like to once again thank Somnia Anesthesia, a national perioperative anesthesia management company bringing anesthesia services and pain management techniques to surgery centers and patients for 27 years. For more information, visit somniainc.com. So until next time, thanks for listening. Please get your vaccine so we can all stay healthy and safe.