Island-hopping hospital ships bring care to remote patients

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Island-hopping hospital ships bring care to remote patients


SINAN, South Jeolla province― The hospital ship “Jeonnam #512” got underway with a whistle, departing Mokpo Harbor at 9 a.m. sharp on March 6. The 170-ton ship sailed for about one-and-a-half hours to Ok island. As she came to anchor about 500 meters (1,640 feet) from shore, residents gathered at the marina, which is too shallow for the big boat. A smaller craft zipped over to pick up residents there for a check-up.
“I went to a hospital in Mokpo last spring, so it’s about a year that I see a doctor again,” Song Young-hui, 57, said, smiling with an x-ray after getting a 20 minute exam.
It takes a lot more time per person for each consultation as the island residents have a lot of questions for doctors they can’t see often, said Lee Yoon-cheol, 32, a physician.
“I barely moved because my back and legs were aching, but I feel much better now as I got acupuncture,” said Kim Young-ja, 76.
“Jeonnam #512,” the hospital on the sea, started its service in December 2003. The South Jeolla provincial government spent 4.5 billion won ($4.5 million) on the ship. There are four hospital ships around the nation and two of them are in South Jeolla province. The other is the 128-ton “Jeonnam #511” which takes care of the eastern islands near Yeosu; South Gyeongsang province has a 162-ton ship that works near Tongyeong harbor, and South Chungcheong province has a 160-ton ship based out of Boryeong harbor.
Seventeen people live on each ship, including public health doctors (a physician and a dentist), an Oriental doctor, three nurses, a radiologist, a clinical pathologist, a captain, mates and cooks. They live on the sea more than 210 days a year. Once they sail, they stay on the ship for at least 10 days on average, visiting one to three remote islands at a time.
“Living in the narrow space of the ship is stifling and boring, but I feel I’m doing something worthwhile helping the island residents to have a healthy life,” said Park Hun-pyeong, 26, a doctor of Oriental medicine who volunteered to work on “Jeonnam #512.”
About 50 of the 80 residents of Ok island were treated in the hospital ship, which headed to a sheltered cove for the evening. The doctors stayed at sea for the night.
The next morning, the “Jeonnam #512” visited Gae island, whose population is 14. Again a small boat took eight residents from the marina.
“I’ve been impatiently waiting for the hospital ship because there was nowhere not hurting me,” said Yang Bok-ja, 76, who got acupuncture on her knees. “I can’t go to the mainland hospital because it costs a lot for the trip. So, I visit the hospital ship every time it comes, which is nearly every two months,” said Ms. Yang. She also carried medicine back to the island for those who couldn’t come to the hospital ship.
“Jeonnam #512” moved on to Jangjae island and Neungsan island later in the day, continuing their slow rounds of the southern archipelago.

by Lee Hai-suk
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