Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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Ukrainian Field Trip

Medical Center Clinic hosts delegation
by Jeremy Morrison

His plain gray suit looked almost drab in the sharp, bright sleekness of the Medical Center Clinic boardroom. It sucked up the space’s pizzaz and replaced it with a grim realism that can only come from working with sick children on the cheap.

Oleksandr Astakhov played with a drink coaster as he spoke, using it to punctuate certain points. His interpreter waited patiently, until finally the Ukrainian physician cracked a smile and placed the coaster on the table.

“I’d like to say,” translated Svitlana Shkolenko, “there is no country in the world that is satisfied with the level of care in their country–problems of different levels.”

The Ukrainian medical delegation has just stepped off the plane. They are midway through a short stateside tour. As head of Crimea’s medical association, Astakhov hopes to gain knowledge through visiting American medical facilities that he can use upon his return home.

“They’re going to get the full scope of how it is to run a facility without government involvement,” explained Brittan Snelling, the Medical Center Clinic’s senior marketing representative.

Earlier, while waiting for the delegation to arrive, Snelling had explained the origin for the Ukraine-Medical Center Clinic relationship. A few months back, one of the center’s physicians traveled to the country on a medical mission trip.

Dr. Donald Dewey, in conjunction with Med Assist USA, a children’s foundation in Tallahassee, went to Ukraine in April. While there, he performed 21 surgeries in three days on orphans.

“There’s never a lack of patients to operate on, there is however a lack of equipment and supplies,” he said. “You kind of work by the seat of your pants. It’s fascinating to me.”

The population of Crimea is a bit over two million. There are 400,000 children. The heath care system is entirely government-funded.

But recently, Ukraine has begun flirting with the idea of injecting some form of privatization into their health care system. It’s still a very new concept, but apparently Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych is seen as sympathetic to the idea.

“You spend a lot of money and your system is not effective,” he said, pausing to wait for the translation before continuing. “You have to work on that. And decide how to provide medical assistance to people who are not insured.”

During their visit to America, the Ukrainian medical delegation is studying up on how a facility runs without the state. He compares the model his country is currently exploring as being similar to Medicare or Medicaid.

“We wanted to get acquainted with the system of medical care, especially pediatrics, in the United States,” Astakhov said through Shkolenko. “Our main purpose is to make our care for children better. We expect to get very useful information we’ll be able to apply in our county.”

While the Ukrainians are looking forward to gaining insight into a privately-run facility, Astakhov also said he’s not looking to the U.S. health care model for all the answers. He knows they’re not to be found there.

“You spend a lot of money and your system is not effective,” he said, pausing to wait for the translation before continuing. “You have to work on that. And decide how to provide medical assistance to people who are not insured.”

And while he derides the government-funded Ukrainian model, which he cites as being too insufficient to provide quality care, Astakhov did note that he could see the benefit of some government involvement in the U.S. system.

“Read Obama’s speeches. He is absolutely right,” the Ukraine physician smiled. “I think the disadvantages of your system are evident to you as your president speaks about them a lot.”

After spending wrapping up the Pensacola stint, the Ukrainian medial delegation will travel to Jacksonville, Fla. There, the doctors will learn about fundraising. They hope to return to Pensacola at some point.

“We hope that this is the first step in future cooperation between this hospital and our hospital,” Astakhov said though the interpreter. “And we really believe that it will be.”