We are excited to share an article written by Ben Steelman at Star News on the work being down by one of our Mission of Hope directors!
Dr. Sam Spicer retired in 2016 as vice president for medical affairs at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. But he’s not out of the hospital business.
Working with the Wilmington-based nonprofit Mission of Hope, Spicer is working hard to restart a hospital in Rotifunk, a town in a remote corner of the West African nation of Serra Leone.
“They’ve had a rough time there,” Spicer said. Sierra Leone was just emerging from a bloody 10-year civil war when the Ebola virus struck. Since 2013, Ebola has killed some 4,000 people in Sierra Leone, Spicer said, including about 10 percent of the nation’s health-care workers.
“And they didn’t have that many to begin with,” Spicer added. Only about 120 doctors and nurses work in Sierra Leone, a country of about 6 million people, about the size of South Carolina. Medical care is sparse in rural areas.
Originally built in the 1920s by missionaries for the United Brethren (a denomination that later merged with the United Methodist Church), the Rotifunk hospital is a modern facility, Spicer said, with modern equipment supplied by Norway. But there is almost no one to staff it.
Spicer had originally traveled to Sierra Leone in 2013 at the start of the Ebola outbreak. He returned to visit Rotifunk in November 2016 as part of a fact-finding team for Mission of Hope, which grew out of an initiative by Wrightsville United Methodist Church. “A friend of a friend recruited me,” he said, grinning.
“The old paternalistic, colonial approach just doesn’t work,” Spicer said. Finding the real needs was hard, he added, since local residents tended to tell the foreign visitors what they thought they wanted to hear.
Spicer quickly realized that a way had to be found to make the hospital self-sustaining rather than dependent on foreign gifts, said Dale Smith, board chairman for Mission of Hope.
One idea that Spicer developed with local leaders was to plant a grove of more than 100 orange trees. Once those trees begin to yield fruit, they can sell the fruit for $40,000 or more per year for the hospital.
Another idea is to use the hospital’s water purifier to bottle and sell clean water, which is in short supply in Sierra Leone. To cut dependence on expensive fuel for the hospital generator, a solar panel array will be installed this summer.
Spicer returned to Rotifunk in February. Among other things, Smith said, he has been training a missionary to work as the hospital’s administrator, showing him how to develop budgets.
He and a team of medical advisers are due to return in the fall to train local personnel. Basic health care is a must, Spicer said. In Sierra Leone, he noted, cuts that would cause no trouble in the United States can quickly turn septic and possibly fatal.
Because most of the people do manual labor, the hospital sees a lot of hernias, Spicer said. Mortality among infants and expectant mothers is high. Yet hernia patients and mothers needing a C-section must be driven many miles, over bumpy, unpaved roads, to get to a facility capable of performing surgery.
“Dr. Spicer’s contribution has been tremendous,” Smith said. In addition to his volunteer work, Spicer and his wife Jane have donated generously to Mission of Hope, even donating an ultrasound machine. Spicer also spends a lot of his spare time talking to local groups about Rotifunk and its needs.
A member of Grace United Methodist Church, Spicer said he was impressed with Sierra Leone’s tolerant atmosphere. The nation overall is about 70 percent Muslim, but each day, the local imam and a Methodist minister together offer prayers at the hospital at the beginning of each working day.
Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or Ben.Steelman@StarNewsOnline.com.
You can make a donation by check to the address below or make an online donation via VISA, Mastercard or Discover:
Mission of Hope: Rotifunk Hospital
P.O. Box 11103
Wilmington, NC 28404