Adler School faculty and clinical psychologists Nataka Moore and Kevin Osten-Garner along with students in our Human Rights & International Immersion course with Heartland Alliance are in the Dominican Republic this month working with community agencies on a number of fronts: creating community-level education & prevention interventions for internalized stigmas related to homophobia & heterosexism, domestic violence, and harm-reduction strategies for substance use and HIV.
From the Dominican Republican, Dr. Osten-Garner shares this account. He is Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, Division of Community Engagement and Training, and Director of the School’s LGBTQ Mental Health and Inclusion Center.
Today we toured the socioeconomic spectrum in Santo Domingo, including two public hospitals. The first was a public general hospital in an economically depressed neighborhood with a dedicated space for children. The second was a hospital in another, but less severe, economically depressed neighborhood for women and mothers.
The conditions in the first hospital suffered from overcrowding, lack of adequate staffing to meet the demand for services, and basic medical supplies. While in the waiting area of the children’s hospital, a worker whose role we were unable to determine spoke to mothers in the waiting room about speaking compassionately to their children and empowerment. The nun who was the administrator of the children’s hospital took time from her day to speak with us about the community they serve, the history of the hospital, and their struggle for resources. The nun has established a separate bank account and regularly makes appeals for people to donate to the children’s hospital. For reference, $1 U.S. equals roughly $40 Dominican pesos.
The second public hospital serving women and mothers was in better condition than the first, especially given USAID‘s support.
What was striking was the presence of heavily armed military personnel at the entrances of both hospitals. After inquiring about this from multiple community sources, we discovered that the military personnel serve as a force to keep hospital visitors safe from crime, but also block some seeking services from entry into the hospital services. For instance, one community member from TRANSSA, a community group working for transgender human rights, recounted how the miltary blocked transgender people from hospital entry due to their identities as transwomen.
Additionally, we heard stories recounting victims of violence, often sex workers, being denied entry into the public hospitals by the guards who did not want them dying in the hospital and becoming the hospital’s problem. The sex tourism industry is prevalent in the Dominican Republic due to the high earning potential of sex work for the large number of foreign tourists seeking sex.