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Mission Hospital in Ecuadorian Jungle Set to Close After 55 Years of Outreach [News]

October 2, 2013

HVO closing 10 building lr
The present facilities for Hospital Vozandes-Shell opened in 1985.
(Oct. 2, 2013 - by Harold Goerzen) Responding to Ecuador's improving healthcare delivery system while moving to a more "nimble," economically efficient healthcare model, HCJB Global announced that it will close its jungle hospital by year's end.

Hospital Vozandes-Shell, or Hospital Vozandes del Oriente (HVO), a 28-bed facility on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, will shut its doors after 55 years of ministry. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the hospital became a day clinic as it transitions to a permanent closure on Dec. 31. The announcement comes just four months after the mission said it had found a buyer for its 76-bed hospital in Quito. The sale of the Quito hospital to an evangelical Ecuadorian family will conclude next June.

"It was a difficult decision to close HVO, but the hospital has become financially unsustainable and we don't have adequate staff to operate a 24-hour inpatient hospital," explained Dan Shedd, executive director of HCJB Global's Latin America Region.

HVO closing 09 dedication lr
Inauguration of the original hospital in 1958.
"We also have to ask ourselves how much we want to be involved in managing fairly large operations which in recent years, especially with new regulations-many of which are good-requiring our staff to focus more on management than on direct ministry," Shedd continued. "No longer running a hospital will also free up our staff to be involved in other areas of healthcare … such as community development ministries and clinics."

HCJB Global will continue to serve people in the Amazon region with community development ministries such as mobile medical clinics, clean water projects and hygiene training, all based at the mission's offices on property near the hospital in Shell.

Sheila Leech, vice president of global healthcare, said one of the new government regulations mandates that injured/sick jungle residents picked up by air ambulances operated by Mission Aviation Fellowship in Shell can no longer transfer their patients to HVO. "Now they must be taken to a government hospital, so a lot of jungle patients are not coming to us."

She also pointed to the Health Ministry's recent ruling that expatriate doctors can no longer practice in Ecuador unless they're fully licensed in the country. This has excluded foreign volunteers, leading to a staff shortage and overtaxing the existing staff. "In the past, foreign missionary doctors could practice in our hospitals while in the process of being licensed, and they often did their rural year of medical practice in Shell."

HVO closing 03 patient lr
 Ministering to a patient in Hospital Vozandes-Shell.
"Times have changed," added Shedd. "There are missional and strategic goals that had been met by HVO that can no longer be met. The public health system has greatly improved, even in the areas of the Pastaza province surrounding Shell where the hospital is located. In order to remain compliant with the standards established by the Ministry of Health, we'd also have to inject major capital funds to upgrade the facility, and the mission wasn't willing to do this."

Many patients are choosing the government's modern, new, multispecialty 120-bed hospital in nearby Puyo or to one of the many health centers that the government has set up in the area, including one in Shell that boasts four doctors, two dentists and a midwife. Often these services are available at no charge.

HCJB Global President Wayne Pederson said just as the mission has moved away from owning and operating major radio facilities, healthcare is moving to a "more agile, ready to go" model that is empowering partners with a focus on training, community development, mobile medical clinics and preventive healthcare.

HVO closing 07 waiting room lr
Patients and family members pack the waiting area in Hospital Vozandes-Shell.
"We celebrate the years we've provided healthcare to needy people in the area," Pederson related. "But our leadership has made the strategic decision to close the facility and focus on community-based healthcare in the Latin America Region and around the world."

Recent examples include helping radio partner Theovision establish a medical clinic in Accra, Ghana; assisting Radio Evangile Développement in Burkina Faso with clean water projects; helping build a birthing clinic in Nepal; and working with partners in Central Asia to launch a preventive healthcare outreach.

Shutting down HVO means the immediate dismissal of some 30 Ecuadorian employees immediately and another 30 by Dec. 31, a decision that has been accepted surprisingly well by the staff on the whole.

"I have peace and tranquility in my heart," said a nurse at a recent staff meeting. "It is difficult to accept the news (of being laid off), but I thank God for the opportunity to have worked here."

HVO closing 08 microscope lr
Examining a blood sample in the lab at Hospital Vozandes-Shell.
"I came to Christ five years ago while working here at the hospital," related another employee. "I thank God for the employment I have had here and that I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually."

"God has brought us here for a purpose to know Him and to shine for Him now and when we leave for other employment. We can hold our heads up high because we worked at HVO," said another staff member, adding that the hospital has developed a reputation for demonstrating Christ's love to all who enter the doors.

Leech admitted that the decision to close HVO is "bittersweet," coming after at least five years of debate and soul-searching. "We praise God for our wonderful employees," she said. "We look at sending these people out as light and salt in the public sector. We can be very proud of our employees. Wherever they go, they will take the aroma of Christ with them and stand for Him."

HVO opened originally as Epp Memorial Hospital on May 10, 1958. An infusion of cash from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency enabled the mission to build a new hospital that was inaugurated on March 30, 1985. It is still unclear if the facilities will be sold, rented or transferred to the Ecuadorian government in 2014.

"Ecclesiastes 3:6 says, 'There is a time to keep and a time to cast away,'" concluded Pederson. "I feel that we have reached such a time as this as we are now expanding the media and healthcare ministries to community radio stations and community health around the world as we make these kinds of changes. It's difficult, it's challenging, but we feel led of the Lord, and by circumstances, to make this wise decision."

Source: HCJB Global




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