Service Through Public Health

December 10, 2018

 

Dr. Eapen completed his MBBS from Trivandrum medical college in India in 1976 and Pediatric training at Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, India. Dr. Eapen left his kith and kin, the security and familiarity of the country that he was born and brought up and reached the shores of Africa, where he worked as the Director of Pediatric Unit in Agha Khan Hospital in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1980. In pursuit of his passion for reaching out to many more, he accepted an offer to teach in Sub-Sahara, Nigeria, Africa without neglecting to practice for the undernourished children and their parents. He also mastered two native languages-- Swahili and Hausa.

 

In 1988 Dr. Eapen was appointed Health Advisor by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (IJNHCR) to the Republic of the Philippines. He accepted this new challenge to cater to the needs of nearly 30,000 Indo-Chinese refugees in the Philippines Refugee Processing Center, Battan, Mary Oliver, in "Wild geese," wrote: "Wherever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-- over and over announcing your place in the family of things." Dr. Eapen had to reinvent himself in this new world meeting new challenges and coping with stress of work. He endeared himself to the refugees, created meaningful relationships with the staff and addressed himself to learning more and more. With his expertise and long standing experience, Dr. Eapen crafted a health proposal for the underserved Filipino indigent population that lived around camp at Morong, Battan. Mr. Herman T. Laurel, Adminstrator at the Refugee Processing Center wrote: "No other Medical advisor before him has figured as positively in Health Services group affairs, nor shown as much commitment to its mission, for which he has earned our respect and high esteem." Sylvia Bitler, the nursing coordinator of World Relief Council (WRC) paid him tribute as he was leaving the Philippines in the following words, "This brilliant and compassionate man literally hides a world of expertise behind his unassuming manner. Our loss is certainly the gain of his next associates"

 

In 1990 Dr. Eapen was appointed Director for Research and Public Heath Programs at International Health Services, Mountain View, California. The objective of this not-for- profit organization was the development of appropriate but low-cost diagnostic kits for use in developing countries. Dr. Eapen also conducted a USAID-supported clinical thai in India on a simple device to test for tuberculosis. While serving as the Director of International Affairs for Stop Aids Worldwide (SAW), Dr. Eapen met Mother Theresa at Calcutta, India, to promote the work of this organization in India. He has also brought his expertise in the health problems of children in developing countries to the doorsteps of many centers of learning. He has lectured on Primary Health care and Health Issues in a Refugee Camp, to students at Stanford and UCSF Medical schools as well as at the School of Public Health at Berkeley. Good medical practice comes in myriad forms, but good doctors share one trait: they are truly present in their clinics, deeply engaged with their patients and their area of specialization. Dr. Eapen's commitment to the healing ministry and his compassion for the poor have brought many honors and accolades:

 

  • Honored by Stanford Medical School: Selected as one of 40 outstanding Stanford Medical Alumni from among 7000 graduates of the last 60 years to be profiled in a book commemorating 40 years of the Stanford Medical School in Palo Alto.

  • Spectacular Care Giver of 1999: "In recognition of your outstanding patient service, consistently superior level of performance and reliable contributions to the team at NewarkJ-lealth Center" - Alameda County Health Services

  • 2001 Global Awards & Golden Honour from Kerala Kala Kendram, associated to Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy (Fine Arts Council of Kerala.

     

Currently, Dr. Eapen serves as Pediatrician for Alameda County Health Services where he reaches out to the poor children in Oakland and Newark, and the juveniles in their retention center in San Leandro. California is fortunate to have the services of Dr. Eapen, taking into account the numerous uninsured and indigent people that populate the area.

 

Bio Source: Smartvoter.org

 

Can you share a little about your background?

 

I was born and brought up in India in a southern part of Indian, a state called Kerala. Did my undergraduate, Doctorate and did my post graduation there and moved to Africa where I was a consultant pediatrician for a Aga Khan hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for two years where my son was born. Then I moved to West Africa in Sub-Sahara in north Nigerian where I was in a teaching hospital. I was consultant pediatrician there for three years. Then came to Berkeley for my Master's in public health and subsequently I worked for the United Nations, I was the health adviser to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to the Philippines where I was responsible for about sixty to seventy thousand Indo-Chinese refugees in the camps and the Philippines. I came back to the US and did my second residency at Stanford. Since I had so much of a public health background and international health experience I wanted to pretty much stay within the arena of the public health, so as soon as I graduated from Stanford, I decided to work for a community health clinic in Union City which is one of the largest community health clinics in the East Bay, Tiburcio Vasquez and subsequently I began the medical director there. And then I moved on and I joined the Alameda health system, which is the safety net public health system, or the county and I've been with them for the last 24 years basically a pediatrician. In the last seven years I've also become a medical director for the Alameda health system. I live in Fremont, I have been in Fremont for 34 years. I have my wife here and two children. Both my children are doctors.

 

Can you give us some insight of what it's like serving as a doctor in Tanzania and Nigeria, Philippines and India and some of the things that you went through there?

 

The health care needs in most of these countries- I'm talking about the emerging nations like India and Africa and South Asia, South America- I think the health care are some pretty much the same, especially in children and I think the most commonly disease is infectious disease that kills you know more than 50-60 percent of the children and a lot of vaccine preventable illnesses which globally you know because of WHO and you know other foundations like Bill Gates Foundations, those vaccine preventable diseases pretty much under control. But and then the second question is access in this country. If you look at the ratio of doctors to the population, it's there's so much of variation across the globe. The life expectancy at birth, one of the best countries, one of the best indicators of that is Monaco which today any child born in Morocco, is expected to live 89.1 years. They have about 60 to 70 doctors for every 10,000 individuals, where as a country like Chad in Africa, life expectancy today for any child born today in Chad is 49 years and the ratio of physicians to 10,000 people is 0.4. So there's so much of disparity and that is access, I mean the more doctors you have people have better access, better access to health care, better preventive health, people live longer.

 

What brought you to the Bay Area?

 

In 1984 I came to this country as a student I came on a H1 visa, I was enrolled at University of California Berkeley School of Public Health for my master’s in public health. The reason why I came to do that was because of my experience in Africa and previously in India. I pretty much realized that public health and preventive health is the way to go than the curative medicine and there were no schools of Public Health in India at that time and so I wanted to come to this country so I applied to John Hopkins and UC Berkeley, I got into both but I opted UC Berkeley and that's how I came to the Bay Area.

 

Do you see vast differences between the emerging healthcare systems and what we have in the U.S. today?

 

It's very difficult to make generalized classification on healthcare systems because there's so many variables around the world. If you look at countries like Cuba where 91 percent of health care is done by the government if you compare the same thing to the U.S. it's only about 50 percent, the remaining 47-48% of healthcare delivery in this country is private sector but then if you take countries like Canada and United Kingdom which the health care system is pretty much nationalized it's all government. So, there's so much of variation between this and B there are a lot of debates which one is better which one is you know more accessible to people where public health access is much easily available like I said before, the health care indicators are much better. Some of the poorer countries, it doesn't have to do with per capita income. There are some of the poorer countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka what at some point of time before the civil war, China and the state of Kerala in India they all had excellent healthcare indicators in spite of the fact, the percentage of GDP that was allotted for healthcare was much lower than some of the countries like America. In the US right now, we spent about 20% of the GNP goes into healthcare so per capita we spend about $8,400 per capita for healthcare expenses in this country and there's no one that is even close, I think the closest probably would be France, which is about 11 and then if we look at Canada and United Kingdom it's probably about 7 to 8 percent and if you talk about some of this country that I mentioned before la Costa Rica and Cuba and the state of Kerala it's less than even 1%.

 

In your opinion, do you feel that the US is right for health care reform?

 

Some reforms have to be done because there's escalating costs, you cannot keep on going up this way. It was 17% about three years ago, now it's almost touching 20. What happens with that is with increase costs in health care, to me the axis becomes less and less, the affordability is less, so definitely there should be some changes but how do you make changes that's a very difficult question to be answered. Obama in his previous administration he tried to make some reforms, before that during Clinton's administration Hilary try to make some reforms so there's no right answer in any of the reforms, I think will be an evolution before we have a perfect you know health system but the answer to your question does it need some reforms yes absolutely it needs some reforms.

 

You've served a lot in our community and not only on the local, but the state level and I'd like to talk about some of the advisory boards or hospital boards that you've served on

 

In 2004 I was popularly elected a did the board of the local community hospital which is Washington Hospital in Fremont, so I've served in that board for the last 14 years. I've been reelected five times and the fifth time was just two weeks ago but during my tenure in the Washington Hospital board I've also served on the state level boards representing the Washington Hospital there is an association of healthcare district board in Sacramento which represents all the district hospitals in the state of California. The district hospitals in California were initiated after the Second World War when veterans were coming back and district hospitals were a mode of delivery of health system to make it much easier for them so the healthcare district is slightly different it's just not one city for instance for the Washington healthcare district it is Fremont, adjacent cities like Newark, Union City, and part of Hayward, one zip code and part of Sunol. So, it's slightly different and that is pretty much all across the state so the representation in the state level I served there for two years so I've also served in the advisory board of the California hospital system which pretty much represents all the hospitals in the state which is about 500 plus hospitals. That advisory board is mandated to have one physician from the northern part of California and one from the southern part of California and I was a representative for the northern part of California and served in that for two years. I've also served in the Advisory Board of School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. I think it was a great honor as far as I was concerned. 30 years after I graduated from the University, to be nominated to the advisory board of the school that I started, I think it was a great honor.

 

As a board member what are your some of your primary responsibilities in terms of giving oversight choose a stewardship at the hospital?

 

We have five elected board members, and this is probably the longest lasting board I think this board. None of the members of the board has changed for 14 years, none of the members have changed and I think that has tremendously helped because when you make strategic planning, some of the planning takes seven to ten years to materialize, and when you have the same set of board members, I think it's much easier to make decisions for such a long strategic projects. We have done extremely well in the delivery of health care in this part of the world, Washington Hospital is now ranked in the top 100 hospitals in the country which is not a easy achievement and some of the specialties like joint replacement, we have been selected by health grades as a top 5 percentile in the country and we have a lot of other initiatives, the stroke program, the cardiology center... so in lot of specialties we have been ranked very high. Now we have opened our new hospital, the Morris Hyman critical care pavilion which is a new emergency room, new ICU, new CCU, and quite a few beds. The emergency room that we had in the past was very cramped. Our emergency room is the second busiest emergency room emergency room in the county, after Island Hospital. So space was very critical, so now we have just moved to this new building which has got about 40 beds in the emergency room. Having said that, we are also hoping that we can convert this emergency room into a level 2 trauma center. If you look at the nearest level 2 trauma center going south is Regional Hospital which is in San Jose which is about 20 miles and the nearest level 2 trauma center going north is in Castro Valley, which is Eden Hospital,

which is also about 20 miles north. So between this two 40 mile sector, if someone has a major car accident or vehicle accident, they have to go to one of these places, so we in the board feel that it may be very critical to have a trauma center so that the people in this community could be served better.

 

 If an individual wants to contact you, how would they go about that?

 

 We have a board secretary who takes all the messages and the messages are passed on to us. If it is on a personal level of course people have access to the emails and that is another way of contacting, but any official this thing is mostly through the hospital.

 

Edited For Concision and Clarity

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