Dr. Robert Winn wants to understand exactly how doctors in Cuba are able to utilize high school students as front line health care workers by having them check in on sick patients in their neighborhoods.
So Winn is thrilled to host three Cuban doctors this week who’ve partnered with their counterparts at the University of Illinois at Chicago to exchange best practices.
The doctors — all official representatives of Cuba’s Ministry of Health — arrived Monday. It’s their first time in the United States as part of a bilateral program made possible by warmer relations with the island nation under President Barack Obama.
The partnership is funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Winn, who heads up the university’s Cancer Center and oversees the schools 13 federally funded health centers that provide care in underserved neighborhoods, has a lot of respect for what doctors in Cuba are able to accomplish with little money.
“What our Cuban partners have been a little bit ahead of us is that they recognize that when you don’t have a lot of money, what you do is you have people,” Winn said.
Winn dreams of high school kids checking on their neighbors in neighborhoods like Englewood or Auburn Gresham, but the scenario runs into a stumbling block: gun violence.
“In Cuba, the reason why you have these neighborhoods and you can collect data and you can have high school kids go and check on everybody is because there’s no fear,” Winn said.
“There’s a sense of public safety … one of our biggest challenges is going to be how do we actually get that spirit and that sense of what you do in Cuba in a neighborhood like Englewood and South Shore where there is gun violence,” he said.
“We think we know how to actually implement these things inside the community but to be able to do that, we need a safe space to do it,” Winn said, He added that education and economics play a huge role in health — a factor the Cubans also take into account.
“What I think a fresh pair of eyes will do for us is to hopefully identify the problems we think we have …and we can come up with different ideas,” he said.
“It’s not a thing that we really have that much experience with in our country,” Cuban Dr. Jose Armando Arrant Villamarin said via interpreter. “Our children do not carry guns, therefore we don’t have that experience.”
“But we will contribute humbly our experience in any way possible,” he said. “We want to see them and talk to the people so we can get a better picture so we can help and learn.”
Commenting on the willingness of Cubans to actively participate in the health care of fellow citizens, Winn said: “People will say, ‘Well that’s a totalitarian society. They’re just doing what they’re told.’ Actually, I’ve been there enough now to know that’s not it. They take pride in it.”
Winn said he planned to take his Cuban counterparts on a warts-and-all tour of the city. “That’s the only way this works, if it’s completely transparent,” he said.
Villamarin and his colleagues return to Cuba Friday but future trips by doctors from each country are in the works.