It was a long, rainy day for us today as we traveled to Pilar and some of the surrounding communities. We started off the day with an informing lecture from Dr. Fernando Rubinstein that gave us a direct perspective of the Argentina healthcare system from a native Argentine. Next up we visited two community health centers that provide primary care, one which is publicly funded and one which is privately funded. Posta Sanitaria is staffed by nurses from the Austral Hospital and serves about 2000 families within the area. El Centro de Salud Hogar Santa María is run by a congregation of nuns within the community, who not only provide primary care for adults and children, but also provide extra schooling for almost 200 children. To end the day, we visited Buen Samaritano Hospice Center.
Buen Samaritano stands for “The Good Samaritan,” and we were able to take a deeper dive into the meaning of that today with Dr. Matías Najun’s presentation, along with the tour of the hospice center. Buen Samaritano specializes in palliative care, which is a place where people come when they are in the ending stages of their lives. But rather than providing solely physical relief for the patients, or “guests,” as they prefer to call them, Buen Samaritano provides holistic relief and understanding of one’s life prior to death. This brings together physical, emotional and psychological factors in order to create the most beneficial end of life experience for the guests.
Buen Samaritano is run completely off of donations and volunteering, and the care is free of charge. The donations go towards the buildings and maintenance, as well as the food and medicine that is provided within the center. In addition, there are usually around four to five volunteers in the hospice throughout the day, and each volunteer comes about four hours a week to help with cooking, cleaning and bathing guests, just to name a few. Volunteers provide a much deeper empathy and care for their work, as opposed to people who are paid to work at hospice centers, as they are in the US, and Dr. Najun explained that that is one of the most important factors when it comes to the comfort and enjoyment of the guests.
At this hospice center, there are only six rooms for guests, which gives them all a personalized stay with full attention on them in all aspects. The objective of Buen Samaritano is to provide guests with comfort, care and support, while also bringing about a feeling of accomplishment, rather than an ending. Dr. Najun described it as being a conclusion, not an ending to life, meaning more can be done with the last stages of life and provide fulfillment for both the patient and his/her family. I was amazed by the compassion that everyone shows there, especially the people who are solely volunteering for the common good and empathy for others. Their guests are treated in a loving and caring way that makes them feel like they are part of a family, even those who no longer have one. More than just the care they are given, Buen Samaritano allows guests to reconnect with family members and loved ones before dying, bringing their life full circle for everyone involved in the death of the guest. Dr. Najun treated death as more of a celebration than a tragedy, and it really altered my perspective of how we handle death.
One example in particular really stuck out for me in terms of how palliative care can drastically turn around and conclude a person’s life, even in their final stages. A patient came to Buen Samaritano as a poor, homeless drug addict with cancer and HIV, who had not seen his family in years. At first, it was hard for him to fully accept the hospice as more than just a physical relief prior to his looming death. But, as the care went on, he was able to accept where he was at in his life and come to a peaceful understanding. He eventually reunited with his family and even met his favorite singer. But the most impactful part of the story to me was the fact that he had no doubts or questioning regarding his life when it was finally time for him to move to a better place. The transformation from sheer pain to a realization of peace in his mind, body and soul really showed the effect that palliative care has on individuals. Most people are afraid of death, and they often try to deny it or avoid it. But hospice centers like Buen Samaratino encourage the guests and their families to take a positive perspective on it and fill the emptiness that often comes with it. It demonstrated that having faith in compassion and humanity can provide an outlet for one to regain full peace, even in the often scary depths of death.