In 2004, Ukraine's presidential election made headline news. Candidate Viktor Yanukovych wanted to lead the country toward a socialist government, following in the tracks of Russia. Opposing candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, desired a move toward the democratic European Union. On November 21, Yanukovych was declared the winner. But when reports were released of the falsifications of the ballots that gave him his victory, tens of thousands of Ukrainians flocked to the public squares in protest, wearing orange, which was Yushchenko's campaign color. The world took notice and pressured the government to hold another election. A new election was scheduled, and on January 10, 2005, Yushchenko was declared Ukraine's third president with 51.99% of the vote.
The election of the west-leaning Yushchenko is cause for great hope in many Ukrainian hearts. Most local politicians, doctors and citizens can list many good things they hope to see come to fruition in the upcoming years. However, their hopes are guarded. They remember what happened in the past.
For 52 years, Ukrainians lived under the harsh conditions of a communist government. All aspects of life were controlled, and opinions about this life were hushed to whispers. When communism fell in 1991, Ukraine awoke from its oppressive slumber, hopeful of what was to come. While Ukrainians were optimistic about their new independence, they were left disillusioned, discouraged and despaired. The older generation was the hardest hit, and many were thrown into poverty. Past governments have been littered with corrupt politicians who were left over from the Soviet regime.
Six years after the fall of communism, Dr. Pal Oroszi met with Dr. Peter Boelens of the Luke Society to discuss opening a private, Christian medical clinic. Dr. Oroszi was encouraged by Dr. Boelens' enthusiasm, but was skeptical of any opportunity to fulfill this idea of a Christian clinic. The new government had not made any room in its medical reform for privatized medicine. But with the backing of the Luke Society, the support of Partnership Ministry Team members, Dale and Mary Andringa, and with the donations of supporting churches in Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands, the renovations of a clinic building began and ministry work started in the Transcarpathian region in 2000. However, the first non-government medical clinic was not welcomed with open arms. "When we started our mission here in Munkacs, the state medical institutions looked at our work with hostility," says Dr. Oroszi. With the state hospitals struggling to get government aid, a privately funded clinic getting help from outside countries was soon looked to as a better place to work and be seen as a patient. The Luke Society clinic slowly gained a lab, an x-ray machine, and ultrasound and other quality equipment. Another revolutionary aspect to clinical care was appointments. Each patient was granted 30 minutes with a doctor, which is unheard of in state institutions. "Our purpose from the very beginning is to have the patient be the focus of our services," says Dr. Oroszi. "We want to notice our patients, not only their physical problems and needs, but also their spiritual problems. That kind of relation to the patient is absolutely unknown in the state care facilities."
It is this careful attention for the patient that has set the Luke Society clinic on a level all its own. "This is absolutely not typical of health care in Ukraine," says Luke Society Medical Director, Dr. Laslo Vacko. "The biggest problem is not the walls and equipment, but the doctors and nurses. It is not enough if they do this work for the money. They have to have the heart."
Dr. Vacko is convinced that many of the patients entering the Luke Society clinic simply need someone to talk to. Patients come to him suffering from sleep deprivation, depression and other ailments. After talking with them, many are surprised at how much better they feel and are thankful to return home without spending money on expensive medications.
When word spread around the community and the region that the Luke Society clinic was administering quality x-rays, the patient list grew quickly. "The government hospital has the equipment, but no money to buy films," says Dr. Vacko. "If they have the film, then they have no developer. The quality of the film is then very poor and the pictures are bad quality. Doctors cannot find anything wrong with the patient because the quality of the x-ray is far too poor."
When an x-ray is taken at the Luke Society, the films are immediately scanned into a computer and stored in the patient's file. Even this small effort has reduced the number of lost x-rays and has increased the ability to check back on previous conditions.
The heart of the Luke Society clinic is to serve those who cannot afford quality health care. Many of the people living in villages have no access to government health care, so they travel, sometimes hundreds of miles, to come to the Luke Society clinic. Unlike a government hospital, when the patients come for an x-ray at the Luke Society, they pay only the cost of the film, around $2.00. A low quality x-ray at the government hospital would include the cost of film, developing, the equipment, the electricity, etc, raising the price far above what most can pay. Even then, the quality is so poor that most doctors cannot read them.
Dr. Oroszi's commitment to the Reformed Church led him to develop a program to include all area churches. The local leadership backed the program, which gives free or subsidized care to area believers, whether Reformed, Catholic or Orthodox.
In August, 2003, the Luke Society clinic decided to take a step further to reach the poor areas in the Transcarpathia region. In the nearby town of Vilok, the Luke Society, with help from SARA (an organization in the United States) and HALM (an organization based out of Holland), opened a satellite clinic under the care of Dr. Ivan Blinda. The same level of quality medical and personal care is applied at this clinic. Just recently, a patient from a village came into the clinic, was warmly welcomed to the clinic and got an appointment with a doctor. He said, "I haven't seen a doctor yet, but my heart is already better!"
In just two years, God has richly blessed the satellite clinic in Vilok. When the clinic first opened, the doctors were seeing 35 patients a month. They are now seeing 100 patients a week and are soon to celebrate their 5,000th patient! Dr. Blinda tells us these statistics with a broad grin and excitement in his voice. "If you don't do this work with joy, you do it in vain," he says.
Recently, a man came into the clinic late in the day, needing to see a doctor. He apologized for being late, but told the receptionist that he would wait until midnight if he had to. When asked why he came to this clinic he said, "At this clinic, you listen to me, you help me, and you are there for me. At the hospital, I was turned away because I didn't know Ukrainian."
Because the Transcarpathian region is so diverse, many languages are native to the people there. Dr. Blinda is careful to schedule the staff so that language barriers are minimized. Those speaking Ukrainian, Hungarian or Russian can find help at the clinic.
Despite the discouraging situation at the government hospital, Dr. Blinda continues to work there part time as a pediatrician. "It is very important for the children there to have constant care," he says. It is that passion for the person in the patient that keeps Dr. Blinda dedicated to the work at the Luke Society clinic also. "At the government hospital, the patient is there for the doctor, but the doctor isn't there for the patient," he says. "The doctor has no interest in the patient as a person, so he will just write a prescription and send him away."
Dr. Blinda can be counted among the people with high hopes for the new government under Viktor Yushchenko. "The situation is getting more critical because people aren't coming in from the villages for health care," Dr. Blinda says. "This is especially critical for the children because helpless children cannot help themselves."
If there is not a change in government health care, Ukraine will soon experience a significant shortage of doctors and other medical staff. "Already, 70% of the doctors in the neighboring village have left Ukraine for Hungary," Dr. Blinda says. The healthcare system in Hungary is more efficient and medical staff wages are higher. "I have been asked to work in a hospital in Hungary, but I know it is God's will for me to stay and help the poor people here."
It is difficult to stay behind when his colleagues are leaving. Dr. Blinda credits Dr. Oroszi for mentoring him in continuing to provide health care to the poor in Vilok. "There are many times when I have wanted to give up, but Pal always helps me get back on track," says Dr. Blinda. "Everyone should have a mentor like Pal in their life."
The area where the Luke Society clinics are is an area rooted in the past. The acts of communism still haunt their very-recent past. They can't forget what it was like to be under the socialist regime, what it was like to be liberated and how they are now struggling to improve their country. But despite their past, these people have hearts full of hope. Hope in a new government that is leaning toward western ideals. Hope that their families will one day thrive on this land. And thanks to Dr. Oroszi, Dr. Vacko, Dr. Blinda, and so many others, these people have hope granted to them through knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.