To care for wounded and sick Ukrainians, this medical system puts profit aside

By Talya Meyers

Before war broke out in Ukraine, Dobrobut was a force to be reckoned with.

The Kyiv-based, for-profit medical system had two hospitals, 17 outpatient clinics, 30% growth, 2,800 employees, a fleet of 22 ambulances and “very big plans to become a national provider,” said the COO Vadim Shekman. . “We are socially conscious, but we were in a business to make a profit.”

Shekman, who is Ukrainian but spent 30 years in Chicago, returned to his home country specifically to work at Dobrobut. “Life was full of potential,” he said.

Most patients paid out of pocket, with about 10% to 15% using some sort of private insurance.

But when the Russian invasion loomed, Shekman and his colleagues decided the time had come to change course. People were going to be hurt and sick, and they wanted to help – not to mention make a profit.

“It was just fine,” Shekman said. “You can’t make money in a war against other people’s misery.”

When Russia invaded, many Dobrobut clinics in and around Kyiv became unsafe. Some staff fled – although Shekman tells the story of two of his doctors, on a trip to Turkey when the war broke out, who immediately flew to Moldova and took several buses back to Kyiv so that they can start treating patients. Twelve of their ambulances went to the military for their operations.

The leaders of Dobrobut decided to concentrate their efforts on a single hospital, where they would see the military for free and ask civilians to pay for their care only if they could – no one would be turned away.

Wounded and sick contacted them on social media or asked for help through the country’s volunteer networks, and Dobrobut dispatched its remaining 10 ambulances, both in Kyiv and across the country, to rescue them, returning them either to their establishment or to hospitals in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, all of which were receiving patients.

The war made it too dangerous for doctors in Dobrobut to return home between shifts. The company therefore converted a wing of the hospital into dormitories. “It ended up being one big family,” Shekman recalled. At one point, an ambulance brought in a hairdresser, who stayed for a day to treat Dobrobut staff members.

Medical needs have evolved over time. “When the Russians were at the walls of kyiv, we had a lot of injuries from shelling and things like that,” Shekman said. His staff members have terrible things: children with missing limbs and brain damage. Patients with significant lower body damage after the Kramatorsk station attack.

“The story that I keep hearing is the story of a person who can’t leave…because they have a bedridden father or mother or another relative, and then they end up be killed,” Shekman said.

Now that the Russians have been driven out of kyiv, medical staff in Dobrobut are seeing people who need heart surgeries and oncology treatments, people with neurological problems or unmanaged chronic illnesses, and occasional cases of Covid-19 .

But money was quickly becoming a problem. “Our doctors, as heroic as they are, still have families. We still have to feed them,” Shekman explained. “When people are so dedicated to their hospital and their patients, you want to do what you can for them.”

Dobrobut leaders decided to pivot again, hoping they could find funds to pay and feed their staff members – and hopefully provide free care for every injured or sick patient.

Then they heard about Direct Relief. The NGO gave Dobrobut a $750,000 grant to pay salaries and buy food for staff members. “We are able to provide free surgical and hospital care to our patients in Ukraine, thanks to the generosity of Direct Relief,” Shekman said.

The funding is particularly valuable, he explained, as it bolsters Ukraine’s existing medical infrastructure. Where a nonprofit “could have brought in a field hospital with volunteer doctors, it could have crowded out the regular doctors…after the war is over, it will be easier for the system to come back to life.” “.

Dobrobut launched its new program on April 1. When they explained to patients that there would be no charge for their care, many thought it was an April Fool’s joke.

But not everyone was surprised. An anonymous writer left a note for doctors at the hospital, saying they expected nothing less from Dobrobut.

The medical system still faces difficulties. Closures and logistical problems have made it difficult to get medicines and supplies. Direct Relief also provided Dobrobut with over 1,900 pounds of medical aid, including insulin and emergency medicine for use in a major disaster.

For Shekman, seeing people stepping in to provide for, care for and transport those affected by war makes the situation a little more tolerable. He admired the bravery of Dobrobut staff members, as well as the networks of volunteers working across the country to help the injured and sick.

“Obviously, war is a horrible thing,” he said. “But if there’s a silver lining to war, it’s how much people care about other human beings.”

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