KK: How many communities are you serving at this point?
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 36 – No 09 – September 2017
BL: At the moment, there’s a network of about 27 communities in western Panama that we visit every three months in rotation. In total, it’s probably closer to 35 or 40 communities. Some of the communities that we’ve chosen are strategically located so that when we’re there, people from neighboring communities can have access, too.
KK: Ryan, what are some of the things Floating Doctors is doing that are most impactful for these patients?
RM: Well, one of the best parts of Floating Doctors is that, as opposed to other organizations, we don’t just go in for short-term fixes. We focus on making sustainable changes to the communities, providing not just health care but also a lot of education. We don’t just work in our clinics; we actually live beside a lot of these people. We live in the village for three or four days. We get to know them, and it’s through those personal relationships that we’re actually able to make the type of change that you can see as the months and the years go by.
KK: This sounds like third-world population health.
BL: Yeah. It could be functionally the same as an indigent population in Los Angeles. It really has a lot of the very same challenges. The most terrifying thing that our patients can hear is, “Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” Outside groups of any kind are something that the indigenous people in Panama have not had the greatest luck with since Columbus’s first voyage.
There were a lot of communities when we first went there that believed what we were doing was incomprehensible. It did not compute that we did not have some other kind of agenda. The assumption was that we must be spies for a hydroelectric or a mining concern or that we were working with the government against them in some way. Often, it would be one particular patient in which we’ve invested a huge amount of time and resources that would really let the community know, “Man, they’re really serious.”
KK: Is this one way that your organization is different than others?