Random thoughts and interviews on Cuban healthcare

“If you wear all white… you either work in healthcare or you practice Santa Maria” -Yuri

I’m going to start posting some of my random writings, mostly disjointed. Perhaps one day I will flesh them out into short essays, but I still think there are alright for some learning experiences.

My first morning in Cuba, I solicited an older Irish man named John that was friendly in the buffet line to have breakfast with me. We sat on the rooftop deck of the Hotel Islazul Lincoln. The spread was random, from fried rice and spaghetti, to an omelette station and hot cakes (no syrup), and sweets like cookies and possibly a birthday cake. He said it was his 10th time in Cuba, but his first time in a Cuban hospital. He had just gotten out last night after being “held hostage” for most of the evening. Apparently upon discharge, they needed to speak with his insurance company before they would let him go. It took hours but he eventually left but also lost his reservation at his nicer hotel, which is how he ended up in the half derelict Hotel Lincoln. Upon arrival at the hospital, with a “bug” but declined to elaborate, they set him up with a saline drip but refused to treat him further until his Irish insurance company released 2,500CUC (about 2,800USD after the conversion loss) to the hospital for his potential treatment. The hospital stated they would refund the balance if there was anything left. While inpatient, John stated he was treated holistically; “they touched [him] a lot, making sure [he] felt cared for” and that it was an overall pleasant experience minus the insurance fiascos. 

I also met a Cuban American named Alex in Trinidad that has been coming back and forth between Chicago and Cuba for over 20 years. A few years ago he ended up at the hospital in Cuba as well. He could not stop going on and on about how wonderful of an experience it was, until the end. When ready for discharge, the entire staff that took care of Alex stood around him, waiting for a tip. We both had a bit of a laugh about this, but there was a sad tinge to it. He explained to me how even though doctors and nurses are among the better paid professions, they still only make 25-28CUC per month. 

My casa particular was across the street from a family medicine office that serves central Havana. It was busy all day with patients coming in and out, but occasionally I would see a nurse standing at the door in traditional (or really old school) garb. White dress, little white hat, white clogs and to add some spunk, patterned white tights. 

There is an emphasis on holistic, whole body healing, even with the doctors. It truly seems like they are upholding the Hippocratic oath. I met a student of medicine in the park and he explained to me that it was important to ensure the entire experience was good for everyone. Again, this reminds me of Massachusetts and some of the patient centered outcomes put forth in the Affordable Care Act such as quality of care. 

My casa owner in Trinidad enquired about my profession in the USA and I told her I practiced nursing, specializing in mainly special needs and neurology. Maritza was excited and explained that she was a psych nurse in a clinic for 40+ years before retiring. “We both studied the brain!” she exclaimed in Spanish. 

Cuba’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Much of it is underdeveloped and needs to be updated. However, it does seem as if medicine has been focused upon. The health of the country’s people is important, as a country needs healthy people to begin with to expand further. Without a good start and people, you cannot progress.


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