Laconia meeets Cuba - Local woman visits Havana as part of a group of medical professionals interested in their health care system

LACONIA — There were Cuba Libres with top notch rum, the best cigars in the world, delicious seafood, beaches, street art and music during Dr. Nancy Dirubbo's recent trip to Havana, but there were also tours of nursing homes for the elderly, local health clinics, and emergency rooms during the health-related trip she hosted for a group of nursing practitioners from around the country.
Dirubbo who, operates Beacon Continuing Education for nursing practitioners and Travel Health of Laconia, designed her trip with the assistance of a U.S. State Department program to learn about health care in Cuba.
"In order to learn something, the best thing is to go there," she said, saying all the lectures and Power-Point presentations in the world can't come close to being there.
She learned that Cuba is still a poor country with very few resources but said Cubans are some of the most resourceful and energetic people she's met. Dirubbo described the ingenious ways Cuban mechanics keep their 1950s cars not only running well by "jury-rigging" parts and being creative mechanics.
She said that unlike the United States, the government has put nearly all of its available medical resources into prevention, giving them equal or better results than most developed countries. She said prenatal care is extraordinary, with special hospitals set up specifically for women with problem pregnancies, that they have one of the highest immunizations rates in the world and one of the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS.
"One of Cuba's biggest exports is doctors," she said, noting the government has agreements with Qatar, Venezuela and other countries to send Cuban doctors there in exchange for hard currencies. She said physicians go to school for six years after high school and nurses attend school for five years. Students are chosen and directed into medical programs from a young age. They make the equivalent of about $22 to $25 monthly when practicing in Cuba.
Dirubbo said the city is broken up into communities of about 500 people each and each community is assigned a doctor and a nurse who live among them. "That's a very high service-to-client ratio," she said.
Dirubbo said the national government created an organization call CENESEX that specifically addresses sexual health. She said homosexuality is addressed openly, birth control is available to all women between the ages of 14 and 49, and abortions are legal – things that surprised her because of Cuba's Latino and Catholic roots.
"Everyone in the Caribbean comes to Cuba to get get abortions," she said.
She said all clinics are named after national heroes or significant national holidays. She visited a clinic called the September 7 Clinica that commemorates a day in the Cuban Revolution.
Dirubbo said clinics have little to no medications and have almost no access to pain killers. She said one of the doctors told her he would love to have access to analgesics – like aspirin and ibuprofen – and things like cold medicines and Vick's VapoRub and other items that can be bought over the counter in western pharmacies.
Medical equipment is scarce but is well maintained. The lab in the clinic she visited has a microscope and a refrigerator. She said the occasional dose of Novocaine for dental services is given with glass hypodermic syringe with a reusable needle – something she barely remembers seeing in the U.S. or in other parts of the world.
There are dengue fever control units, she said, noting they are rare elsewhere.
"There are no disposable needles, but they use good techniques (for sterilization") she said.
"I was very surprised at the conditions of the nursing homes," said Dirubbo, noting the one they let her visit was pretty crowded and the people were near starvation. "I can only imagine how bad the ones we didn't visit are like."
Dirubbo said most elderly people are cared for in their own homes or the homes of their relatives. She said the majority of the people in nursing homes were elderly women who never married and had no children.
For the most part, she said, the people were very friendly. Many speak a smattering of English and many on her tour speak Spanish, including Dirubbo.
"Fidel is everywhere," she said. "Sometimes (his depictions) are paternal, sometimes they are as a teacher and sometimes they are with a gun."
There were very few pictures of current President Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, but photos of revolutionaries Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos are everywhere, she said.
People told her they loved socialism because they get their housing, their education and their medical care but also want to be able to earn a little money on the side and not pay taxes on it. She said the businesses that are private are heavily regulated and the business owners must pay taxes on themselves and for their employees.
She said one quick way for Cubans to make a little money is to charge $1, which is about the equivalent of one convertible peso, for pictures of themselves – especially posed in front of their cars. She said elderly people sit in public restrooms and charge a peso for a few squares of toilet paper, and that street musicians and artists charge a few pesos for music and photos.
While most of her team members were greeted with open arms, many said they were afraid the American businesses would come down and force them from their homes to provide more hotel space. Dirubbo noted that she has seen where this has already happened.
And there was fun to be had. She said in an old casino in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a single roulette wheel is on exhibit to remind people about the evils of American capitalism and the mafia violence it brought to Cuba before the revolution, a fear expressed by some locals who don't want to return to those times. She said even the parking meters are gone because people associate them with coin slots.
The group went to the old Sloppy Joe's in the old city to see where Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and the "gangsters" hung out before the revolution. She said they took of tour of Revolutionary Square where she was surprised that there were no vendors.
Dirubbo is leading another group of medical professionals back to Cuba in April. She is also leading a Florence Nightingale tour of England in September. She said there is still room on the Cuba tour and any medical person interested should contact her at her offices in the Busiel Mill.

Laconia superintendent search narrows; school trips abroad spur policy question

LACONIA — The consultant for the 13-member superintendent's search committee will be making his recommendations as to who the School Board should interview on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
School Board Chairman Stacie Sirois said last night at the regular school board meeting that the search committee is finishing up its interviews over the next few days and will meet with the consultant as to who the finalists are.
She said after the consultant's meeting with board, visits to the final applicants' schools will be scheduled, if the board determines they are necessary.
When asked directly how many people were interviewed and if they were candidates from New Hampshire or other states, Sirois decline to answer saying that information is current protected by non-public personnel status. She said she didn't know how many finalists there would be.
School trips
In other business, Superintendent Dr. Phil McCormack questioned the board about whether or not it had a policy about board approval of field trips, especially those that are out of the country. He said a trip request to Spain in 2017 triggered his interest and the other schools where he served as superintendent required School Board approval.
"I felt I had a responsibility to bring this to your attention, especially with all the turmoil in Europe," he said.
Member Scott Vachon said he can recall having approved trips as a school board member in the past but said he doesn't recall approving any in the past three or so years. He said the board was made aware of them.
McCormack mentioned that not only is he concerned for student safety, he said there is a trip scheduled for France next year.
Sirois said that in her experience the trips are planned by education companies who are very much in touch with what is happening globally. She said that one of the school trips to Egypt was changed to Greece because of civil unrest at the time in that country.
McCormack said he isn't looking for a vote to approve the 2017 trip to Spain but suggested the newly formed Policy Committee led by Chris Guilmett may want to address the lack of a policy.

The Children’s Auction kicks off next week

LACONIA — The 33rd annual Children's Auction, which runs from Tuesday through Saturday next week, will be the first under the direction of the Greater Lakes Region Charitable Fund for Children, a nonprofit corporation which earlier this year took sole ownership of the "Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction."
Since the first auction in 1982, which was conducted singlehandedly by Warren Bailey of WLNH, the auction has been effectively owned and operated by the radio station and its owners. Earlier this year, volunteers who devoted their time and energy to the success of the event reassessed the relationship with the station and chose to vest ownership of the auction in a nonprofit corporation — the Greater Lakes Region Charitable Fund for Children.
Mike Seymour, chairman of the board of trustees, said yesterday that despite the change of ownership and leadership the 33rd auction will resemble its 32 forerunners in virtually all essential respects.
"There will be very little change," he said.
Above all, he stressed that the proceeds from the auction will be distributed among organizations within the communities whose members, both individuals and businesses, volunteer and donate to the auction.
Seymour explained that by tracking the source of donors and participants, the auction can define the local community it serves, which he said roughly corresponds to an area bounded by Franklin, Bristol, Plymouth, Alton and Belmont with Laconia at its center.
"It's a moving target," he said. "We will continue to expand as as our participants grow."
This year, the auction will be broadcast from on two FM stations, 104.9 The Hawk and WZEI 101.5 and telecast by Lakes Region Public Access TV Channel 25 Metrocast and Channel 12 Metrocast.
Seymour assured those who have followed the auction over the years will "find a lot of the same players and faces they've seen in the past, like Warren Bailey, Pat Kelly and Chris Ialuna along with a mix of less familiar personalities and celebrities, perhaps even presidential candidates.
Seymour said 61 local charities, the most on record, have applied for support from the auction totaling $580,000.
"That is the most funding ever requested," he said, "but we have set no predetermined goal for the year."
He noted that since the auction began in 1982, it has raised approximately $4.1 million, almost half of that in the past five years. Recently, he said the auction has become a hub with a number of spokes, like Pubmania, the Parade of Homes, Pumpkin 5K and other fundraising events that donate their proceeds to the auction. Altogether, he said, the spokes represent more than half the $486,575 raised last year, when Pubmania alone contributed $235,595.
The auction will run from Tuesday, Dec. 8, through Saturday Dec. 12; from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Lake Opechee Conference Center in Lakeport. For more information, visit the auction's website at