The Medical Surgical Unit (MSU) is just one component of the “Hospital on Wheels” (HOW) envisioned by Dr. Juan “Jim” Sanchez. Presently, it is a 32-foot van custom-designed as an operating room, where minor and medium surgeries can be performed. To date, it has served 11,000 indigent patients.

What the Filipino aesthetic plastic and reconstructive surgeon has actually conceptualised is a transportable hospital composed of six customised buses and a support truck that when put together forms a makeshift health facility in areas where it is needed but there is none.

Dr. Jim has completed its design and hopes to put together the RP Healthcraft Carrier as soon as funds become available. Aside from its transportability, what is unique about the HOW is the convenience and ease the parts can be connected and disconnected to make up the hospital.

Each bus is color-coded and serves a specific purpose. The blue bus is the Preoperative, Sterilization, and Scrub Area; the Red serves as the Operating Room, capable of handling major operations under general anaesthesia, while the Yellow will serve as the Post-Anaesthesia Care Unit (PACU).

Meanwhile, the fourth bus will house multi-specialty clinics such as ophthalmology, ENT, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and OB-GYNE, and the fifth bus shall serve as the pharmacy, laboratory, and diagnostics. The last bus doubles as quarters for the staff, and will house the computer systems.

The support truck, on the other hand, will carry the 50-100KV generator, prefabricated tents, foldable beds, chairs and tables, and other supplies.

Dr Jim has noted the shortage in surgeons around the Philippines, and believes that once fully functional, the HOW can serve patients needing surgical procedures without general anaesthesia, especially in remote areas. In so doing, they can help reduce the load of tertiary government hospitals, that can then focus their resources and attention to more chronic cases.

Digital rendering of surgical bus interior
Digital rendering of surgical bus interior

Not competing

The reconstructive surgeon emphasised that the HOW is not designed to compete with government and private healthcare facilities. Rather, it is intended to bridge the gap in healthcare delivery.

Presently, the MSU is working in partnership with the Philippine Red Cross, whose mandate is to provide emergency healthcare services during disasters and calamities.

Dr Jim understands the costs entailed to build and operate the HOW, and made it clear he is not tied to any government agency to conduct their mission work.

But he is in the process of forming alliances with government agencies, private corporations, through their corporate social responsibility [CSR] arms, civic organizations and private individuals to fulfill his dream.

For now, what he is simply asking of administrators of rural health units (RHUs), which they coordinate with for surgical missions, is to help gather people in their communities who need medical attention and organize them so the mission runs smoothly and benefits as many people as possible.

Wanted: Additional donors and supplies

Dr Jim acknowledges that operating the MSU is a huge challenge, especially when it comes to sourcing funds and supplies. All procedures are provided for free, but there is the matter of logistics, supplies and even stipends for the staff.

He estimates the entire medical fleet will cost Php70 million to put up, while operating costs per year is twice that amount.

Presently, 60 percent of their operating costs for missions is out-of-pocket, while 40 percent comes from donations. Again, they mostly rely on his network of family, friends and professional associates, here and abroad, to fulfill their work.

He is eventually looking to tap private corporations to make it part of their CSR work, so they can serve more people especially in the southern parts of the country. For now, most of their mission work is around Luzon.

Challenges notwithstanding, Dr Sanchez remains steadfast that his vision will eventually be realised, and not just have one HOW in the country, but one in every major region (Luzon. Visayas and Mindanao).

His surgical mission work is most rewarding because Dr Jim realizes he has been tapped as “a messenger of God and instrument of his healing power.”

Asked how he wants to be remembered, Dr Jim declared, “Be an example of the change you want, and put up a system and multiply [that]. Inspire [people] and your service will multiply.” MIMS

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