Santa Rosa doctor tends to community health here and in farming area of Guatemala
Most doctors go to work every day to improve the health of their individual patients. But Dr. Kate Feibusch, a Kaiser family physician in Santa Rosa, has been doing that and much more.
Two decades ago, Feibusch went to Central America for two years to train community health workers in Petén, Guatemala, one of the country’s poorest states.
Now, with the help of a nonprofit organization she started three years ago, the medical workers she’s helped train have a new, permanent building with a teaching center and community health clinic. Feibusch, who travels to Guatemala two or three times a year, is there now and will be officially opening the clinic on Friday. Both the community health workers she’s helped train and the clinic she helped build fill a medical void in the town of El Naranjo, and the surrounding region.
“It was only supposed to be two years, but it turned out to be my most important life’s work,” Feisbusch said.
For her, the road to Central America began after she graduated from the Santa Rosa family medicine residency program, a UC San Francisco affiliate.
Feibusch, who grew up in San Francisco, attended medical school at UC San Francisco. After her residency here, she was recruited to go to Guatemala for two years with Concern America, a Southern California nonprofit that trains community health workers.
Two years turned into 12, and eventually Feibusch splintered from Concern America and continued working with a group of health care workers who formed their own organization in the town of El Naranjo.
The program called Programa de Salud Comunitaria, or Community Health Program, is financially supported by Petén Health, the nonprofit Feibusch started. Through the program, villagers, some with very little formal education, are trained in basic health care so they can provide medical services in their own communities.
Among other things, they can treat diarrhea and pneumonia, chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, and emergencies like lacerations and snakebites.
“It allows them to deal with as much as they are possibly prepared to deal with,” Feibusch said. “They also do a lot of first aid. It’s a farming community, and you see injuries like accidents with machetes. Pretty much all of them are good at suturing machete wounds.”
The spirit of self-sufficiency promoted by Petén Health eventually led to a drive for self-determination.
Feibusch said the trained health workers started expressing a desire to have their own medical training center and community clinic. She initially resisted the idea.
“They were the ones who wanted it,” she said. “I actually fought it pretty hard. I was looking for any other option. But they were sure that they wanted to create a place of their own.”
They were convinced they always would be at someone else’s mercy without their own education center and medical clinic, she said. That was three years ago. By that time, Feibusch, who returned to Northern California in 2012 with her two daughters born in Guatemala, was working for Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center.
At Kaiser, she found a perfect fit working with La Clinica, a 4-year-old clinic within Kaiser’s Bicentennial Way campus that caters to the health care provider’s significant number of Spanish- speaking patients. Feibusch’s experience in Guatemala helped her bridge similar language and cultural gaps experienced by Spanish-speaking Kaiser patients in Sonoma County.