Washington state man looks to build sustainable medical facility in Panama
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A "junta" in some corners of Panama means everything. It could mean gathering to help out your neighbors work a rice field, build a new home, or even just to celebrate life. The "junta" in Panama essentially means getting together for some reason or cause.
For Washington state resident Jim Cannon, recently transplanted to the lush forests of Panama, "junta" has taken on another meaning.
He is trail blazing what some people have called a revolutionary healthcare idea in Latin America by attempting to build a sustainable, permanent and new medical/dental facility in the rural area of Agua Buena on the Los Santos province of Panama.
Cannon grew up in Issaquah and moved to the Yakima Valley, where he worked as a paramedic for American Medical Response (AMR) for 10 years and as an EMT for three.
No sooner had he and his family relocated to the rural Panamanian town of Agua Buena in 2013, than they started receiving house calls.
House calls in the form of locals seeking medical help, since Cannon was medically trained and the only person in town with a vehicle that could make the 20 minute drive to the nearest hospital. People in Agua Buena do not ask for help easily, says Cannon.
"Some of my neighbors will go months without medical treatment," citing the costly and lengthy journey required of the people to visit the nearest medical facility, which is often poorly staffed and lacking in necessary supplies.
Agua Buena is a town of about 1,000 where roads are minimally paved, farming is a way of life, and the men who work in the fields make about $17 a day.
"It's difficult to watch when you know they could receive some type of care," Cannon said.
He shared the realities of medical care in Agua Buena that many Americans couldn't fathom. Cannon shared the story of a 7-year-old boy who was bucked from a horse, and remained unconscious for 20 minutes.
Cannon, as a trained and experienced medical professional, knows this is too long to be unconscious for - and when he brought the boy to the closest hospital, they discharged him quickly.
So his "junta" or mission is to construct a medical facility in the town of Agua Buena that will include a 1,550 square-foot medical and dental clinic, all the equipment needed for the medical and dental facilities (i.e. X-rays, defibrillators, Istat for labs, etc.), two cottages for volunteers and staff, improvements to the road that leads to the facility, back-up generators, a small pharmacy, an outdoor caf, therapy pool, air-conditioning, transport van, and more.
The scale of the project is large, but construction costs are low in Panama, Cannon says. "We'd been working behind the scenes for a year."
A local landowner has already donated 10 acres of land that has a home on it, to the project. And the local government has given the construction project the greenlight.
"They said they're forgotten," Cannon said of the people of Agua Buena.
The facility will serve nearly 4,000 people surrounding Agua Buena as well, since most people cannot reach the closest hospital without a full day's pay on public transportation to get there.
"This will be a model facility for all of Latin America," says Cannon, who hopes the medical and dental facility will maintain sustainable healthcare for the region, as well as jobs.
Cannon says any donations to the facility will help, and all donations will be used "judiciously."
"This is the last best place on Earth," Cannon said of the Agua Buena community.