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Sara Petrosyan

Garni Health Center: Experienced Physicians Make Up For Lack of Modern Equipment

The Garni Health Center services Garni and four neighboring villages – Geghadir, Hatsavan, Goght and Geghard– with a population of some 100,000. This doesn’t include visitors and those residing in summer homes.

Approximately 1,000 to 2,000 tourists visit every day in the summer months.

The Center only has one ambulance for all these people. It is also allocated to the Arzni Medical Ambulatory at no charge.

The Garni Center receives ten or eleven calls daily. When I ask Lilit Karapetyan, director of the center, if they can answer all the calls, she says yes. Karapetyan then adds that they use the center’s Niva vehicle and taxis in a pinch.

Photo: Lilit Karapetyan (far right)

Karapetyan says that many in the area have cardiovascular ailments. They bare all sent to Yerevan because the Garni Center doesn’t staff such physicians nor does it have the necessary equipment to treat them.

An employuee tells me that such service cannot be described as emergency care. “It would be better if patients walk in rather than by the ambulance which is on its last legs. It’s risky transporting seriously ill patients in it.”

A family health project was launched at the Garni Center in 2006, after which beds in the facility were cut. Only four patient rooms have been kept; two for the children’s unit and two for the maternity ward. When Hetq visited the facility all were empty.

Director Karapetyan says that the ambulatory patients are sent to the hospital in the town of Abovyan in order that they be registered and given beds there. She says that there is little demand for highly specialized physicians and that the facility can’t provide paid positions for them anyway.

This year, the facility hasn’t accepted expectant mothers. Last year, three babies were born. In its heyday, several years ago, some two hundred babies were delivered per year. Local women trusted the doctors, even though the facility lacked modern equipment.

Now, expecting mothers are sent to hospitals in Abovyan ort Yerevan. In general, those diagnosed with medium severity ailments are all sent elsewhere, not including those involved in accidents. Yearly, some 25-30 accidents are registered in the area – especially car accidents.

In 2014, the facility’s emergency unit received 107 calls from visitors and tourists. Figures for this year haven’t been tallied yet.

For a moment, I try to imagine someone who has suffered a heart attack or insulin shock being taken to Abovyan or Yerevan in the Niva or the facility’s ambulance – a distance of 30 kilometers. I also try to figure how such patients are taken care of in the Garni Center, which lacks the necessary conditions, before the ambulance returns from Yerevan.

I then recall the promise of Kavalenko Shahgaldyan, the former governor of Kotayk Province, made some two years ago when he said that the Garni Center would soon be allocated an ambulance. He never fulfilled his promise. Instead, he forced the mayor of Garni to renovate four patient rooms at the Garni Health Center, under the administration of the provincial government, at the municipality’s expense.

The last time new medical equipment was allocated to the Garni Center was in 2006, when the laboratory was partially modernized as part of the family medical project.

But the microscopes provided are no longer used in modern medicine. The lab conducts two types of analysis – clinical and biochemical. When I ask lab technician Rouzanna Haroutyunyan, with 36 years of experience, if she trusts the results, she smiles and says that people trust their sight more than equipment.

The x-ray machine, built in 1986, is installed in the hospital’s former building. While it still looks new, its expiry date has long passed.

In the facility’s staff of 45, there is no radiologist. X-rays are reviewed jointly, based on collective experience.

Director Karapetyan tells me that there are mainly family doctors at the facility and one pediatrician-gynecologist. There is no cardiologist even though heart related ailments dominate in the area. The facility doesn’t even have a physician on call.

The facility itself reminds one of a neglected building. It was last renovated in 1996. The Kotayk Provincial Governor has finally started renovation work by including it on the “Vital Projects” list for which the state government has provided funds.

While the building may be spruced up from top to bottom, will it be able to provide adequate medical care to the 2,000 patients that file through its doors in an average month without the physicians it needs and the equipment they must use?

And how will the sick get to the facility in the first place if the ambulance service isn’t modernized?

Photos: David Banouchyan

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