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Mid-City CAN Blog

Group looks at Cuban community health model

A group from San Diego and Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities Initiative sites visited a maternity ward that serves  expectant mothers with special needs during a trip to learn about Cuban community clinics in October in Havana.  Courtesy photo
A group from San Diego and Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities Initiative sites visited a maternity ward that serves  expectant mothers with special needs during a trip to learn about Cuban community clinics in October in Havana.  Courtesy photo

On Oct. 19-26 a group of City Heights health leaders traveled to Cuba to study its health system and community clinic model. They learned about community health efforts, including sexually transmitted disease prevention, community-based clinics and maternity homes.

By Aaron Zaheer, Medical Director, Mid-City Community Clinic Pediatrics; Alberto Aldrete, Clinic Director, City Heights Family Health Center and Lauren Abrams, Program Manager, Council of Community Clinics

We went to Cuba to learn about the health care system, which we believe can provide fresh ideas and strengthen collaborations in our own communities with high health disparities. Cuba provides a good example for us because they are providing quality healthcare to the community with limited resources. It was important to be there to talk to people working in the field on all different levels.

We were looking for a better understanding of how the system works, an exchange of ideas with Cuban peers, and find to relevant approaches that we can bring back.

The people that were selected for the trip are all committed to serving the community and improving access to care: family physicians, clinical directors and health-care advocates.

They included representatives from nonprofit organizations that are part of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative in City Heights and other parts of California, working to improve health-care access and create safe and healthy neighborhoods, as part of a 10-year, $1 billion initiative to change the way that health happens.

We participated in a number of activities at schools, community centers, and with cultural groups. We were also able to visit sites that included all levels of the health-care system: neighborhood clinics, specialty clinics, senior-day centers, schools, public health centers. We were also fortunate to meet with medical professionals, high-level public health officials, teachers, med-school students, and other community members that were willing to share their experiences with us.

Cuba has a community-based approach to healthcare. Everyone knows their doctor, the doctor knows each person they are responsible for. The doctor and nurse team that serve the neighborhood also live there, and are personally responsible for the health of the people in their communities. The doctors see people as more than just patients, they are also neighbors and friends. Clinics work similarly to elementary schools here, each household has an assigned family doctor. That means no matter where you are in the country, you know where to go for care.

We also think that a big difference in Cuba is that doctors are trained to think of prevention first to keep people healthy. The training also emphasizes being able to assess patient's physical, mental and environmental health.

We saw a system that uses much less money but keeps people well by emphasizing prevention. Cuba is able to achieve similar health outcomes - life expectancy, infant mortality, and rates of chronic disease - as countries that spend fifteen times as much.

We are already doing some of this type of work in City Heights. We want to leverage that and reach deeper into the community. The goal is to increase access to healthcare through school clinics, manage health better by reaching people in their homes and other places to help with disease management, and close the gap between residents and health providers

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