In Cambodia, many services Americans take for granted – like emergency medical care – are reserved only for those who can afford it.
“If you don’t look like you can pay, they will say ‘we can’t admit you,’” says Dr. Rothsovann Yong, a Lowell General Hospital emergency room physician who emigrated from Cambodia as a child.
The connection between Cambodia and Lowell is a strong one. Lowell has the second highest population of Cambodian residents in the country, behind only Long Beach, California. But thanks to Dr. Yong and several others, that connection is growing stronger in Cambodia as well by helping that country’s poor gain access to healthcare and screenings.
In October, a group from Lowell General Hospital travelled to Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to witness the graduation of four Cambodian physicians from an ultrasound training program installed by Dr. Yong, using an ultrasound machine donated four years ago by Lowell General.
The Lowell group included Lowell General Hospital President and CEO Jody White and COO and Executive Vice President Amy Hoey, along with Dr. Yong and her husband, and Dr. Milton and Debbie Drake, who forged this “sister hospital” relationship in 2014.
“Cambodians are part of the fabric of our community, from our medical staff to our employees and patients,” Hoey says. “It was important to us to honor that relationship, and we could tell our visit was meaningful.”
The Drakes have performed medical mission work in poor areas from Central America to Cambodia. Dr. Drake is now a director with Hope Worldwide, which operates Sihanouk Hospital as well as Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital in Kampot, both of which serve the poor at little or no cost.
The sister hospital relationship was initiated when several Cambodian physicians came to Lowell to tour the hospital. Two years later, Dr. Yong and former Lowell colleague Dr. Chris Clingan went to Cambodia with the ultrasound machine. The imaging technology enables physicians to immediately identify dangerous conditions inside the body like fluid around the heart, gall bladder infections and problematic early pregnancies, without waiting days for blood testing results.
Dr. Yong implemented the 3½ year training program to “train the trainers” so they could go on and teach others. Her hope is that she and other doctors can rotate through Cambodia each year to maintain and expand the training.
Along with the graduation, the Lowell group got an up-close look at how Hope Worldwide operates its hospitals and does outreach, including a trip to a remote floating village that a healthcare team visits once a month to see patients, who arrive on small boats.
Dr. Yong is hopeful that the relationship between the hospitals will continue to grow. Few personify the connection between these two distance places more than her.
When she was a child, her family fled Cambodia and the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. She came to the United States as a refugee, and went on to become a doctor.
“Cambodia is very close to my heart, so I feel a profound connection to this mission,” she says. “This ultrasound and the doctors who are trained to use it will save lives.”