Within 24 hours, Villa Nueva, Guatemala, became home to a new physical therapy (PT) clinic, only the second such facility in a city with a population numbering almost one million. The clinic, which started accepting patients the next day, was created thanks to the efforts of 26 volunteers from the nonprofit Move Together and more than a hundred community volunteers.
Originally, three days had been set aside for the project, but in the end only one was needed, said Josh D’Angelo, DPT ’13, physical therapist at Inova Health System, adjunct instructor of PT and health care sciences at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), and co-founder and chief operations officer for Move Together.
“During [our] previous work in Guatemala, we struck a close relationship with some of the local leaders, including the mayor and first lady of the city of Villa Nueva,” D’Angelo said. “They were passionate about bringing better access to care to their community, so we discussed the potential to build a clinic. Once we realized our vision and passion were in alignment, we worked to come to an agreement on how we could build the clinic in a sustainable way.”
Move Together’s mission is to increase access to quality rehab medicine around the corner and around the world, D’Angelo said. Building the clinic in Guatemala is part of the organization’s clinic development program, D’Angelo explained, which fosters creation of sustainable rehab clinics in the places that need them most.
“By building the clinic … we estimate that we will be able to triple the number of residents that receive PT care,” D’Angelo explained. Many of the residents of the city make less than $3,000 a year, and the unemployment rate approaches 60 percent.
The new clinic now provides treatment for patients with movement dysfunction, including pain, weakness, or functional limitations, said D’Angelo, adding that demand for services in the area is high. In the three days after the clinic was built, he said, more than 180 patients were treated.
“Our patients’ [ailments] were most commonly orthopedic and neurologic, and ranged from pediatrics to older adults. We saw a lot of children with unexplained developmental disabilities and found ourselves focusing … on education for the caregivers to maximize the long-term success of the children,” he said.
The clinic is now sustainable, he noted, and run by local physical therapists with the assistance of physical therapy students. Move Together helped to build the foundation of the clinic, provide equipment, and create operational efficiencies, but the local municipality is helping to fund the local physical therapists, D’Angelo said.
Growing up in Michigan, D’Angelo witnessed the daily challenges facing many residents of Detroit, and knew he wanted to dedicate his time to helping the underserved. “Whether it’s in Detroit or Guatemala, Nigeria or Nicaragua, I’m still fueled by the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality care,” he said.
D’Angelo credits his experience and education at SMHS with helping him make Move Together successful. His time at GW taught him to effectively problem-solve and think critically, as well as to “meet new ideas with enthusiasm.”
“I was fortunate at GW to be surrounded with faculty and students who encouraged innovative thinking and provided incredible support,” he said. “We instill the same mindset into all of our teammates and for all of our activities with Move Together. With the right support, environment, and encouragement, anything is possible.”