Volunteering & Clinic Staff Update - Blog - Somos Amigos

Volunteering & Clinic Staff Update

Hace mucho tiempo! Summer greetings to everyone.

I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on our plans for resuming volunteer trips to the Dominican Republic.

The bottom line: we still don’t know when volunteer trips will resume.

Why? The reason we don’t have a clear sense of timing is that we rely on the Dominican Ministry of Public Health to approve our clinic operations. We have always operated under the auspices of the Ministry as a temporary provider of care, and under those guidelines, our approval to see patients is defined by the time we staff the clinic. During the pandemic, the Ministry has not allowed short-term medical clinics (jornadas) to operate. 

As you know, in the absence of our volunteer groups, we have been able to care for our patients with the help of local teams of professionals. We have been able to do so as a result of an exception granted to us, an exception to the covid guidelines that are in place. Our “argument” has been that we have hundreds of patients who rely on us for their continued care and monitoring, and so, while we don’t have the technical approval (called habilitación temporal) because is not being granted, we have been allowed to open the clinic with the knowledge of our friends in the Ministry. The understanding is that we will follow strict covid protocols and only see returning patients (that is, we cannot open our doors to everyone… no new patients).

I wish I could tell you when the guidelines might change, but no one seems to have a good answer. I had been hopeful that October would be the first trip when we could have a volunteer team in the clinic, but with each passing day, the logistics of making that happen become more challenging. I know, for example, that many of our volunteers who are working professionals already have commitments for the week we would be at the clinic (October 9-15, 2021). As you can see, it’s complicated.

In the meantime, we have started the process of changing our status with the Ministry, from one of a temporary provider of care to a permanent provider. The obvious implication and commitment on our part is that we will have professionals staffing the clinic on an on-going basis. This is what we have been working toward anyway, as more permanent staffing will allow us to see many more patients who need our care but who cannot access it now. This status will also allow us to have visiting teams staff the clinic whenever we want, as we would be working under a “blanket” approval that is renewed annually.

The process for our being granted permanent approval (habilitación fija) involves lots of paperwork, inspections, and Dominican medical and dental professionals, attorneys and architects. It’s underway, but it could take a while.

In the end, I think that it’s possible we could accommodate a small number of volunteers in October if they are working alongside our Dominican professionals. However, I’d say it is unlikely that we will be able to have a full team. Let’s hope that changes in time for our January 2022 trip.

Once we do resume our volunteer trips, you can anticipate these changes:

  • We will require that all of our volunteers be fully vaccinated against covid
  • We will continue to follow covid protocols and local guidelines in the clinic and wherever volunteers/workers are present
  • We will continue to assign appointment times to patients rather than have them show up in the morning and wait for an opportunity to enter the clinic
  • Depending on the covid situation, we may not be able to house some or all of our volunteers in homes in the community: TBD

Thank you for your patience and continued support of Somos Amigos. I was at the clinic a couple of weeks ago and, while it is gratifying to see our local workers caring for our patients, it is not the same without our volunteers. You are our lifeblood. You bring Somos Amigos to life. And even in your absence, your commitment has been steadfast. Thank you. And if you have not recently, check out our social media accounts for some images that will remind you of the patients who still ask for many of you by name.