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Business' mind, charity's heart

Dr. Guy Theodore runs a Haitian hospital with hard-earned acumen.

Published May 19, 2007


Dr. Guy D. Theodore is a medical doctor by training and a humanitarian by calling. It's his knack for business that helps sustain both sides.

He will be honored tonight at the bay area's inaugural International Business Summit, a two-day event designed to encourage local companies to think globally.

A quarter-century ago, Theodore opened a 30-bed hospital in his native Haiti, relying on donations to keep the charity running. Now, as his nonprofit has grown to also include economic, environmental and academic programs, Theodore knows that no charity can run on good intentions alone.

During his visit to Tampa, he talked to the St. Petersburg Times about three things that are helping his missions achieve sustainability in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere:

1. Superiority. His key business principle -- offer a superior product -- might seem obvious to for-profit organizations, but it's not always at the forefront of charities' mission statements. But Theodore's Hopital Bienfaisance, or Charity Hospital, is state of art. What's more, he bankrolls statistics that prove its success. For example, Haiti's infant mortality rate is 64 per 1,000, according to the CIA's World Factbook. In Pignon, Theodore says, the rate is 13 per 1,000.

"We are the only hospital in this area providing this quality of care, " he said. "Can you imagine -- we are the only hospital in the area that does laparoscopic surgery."

By establishing Charity Hospital's prestige, Theodore has helped effect a local change in thinking. Residents, he said, have learned that if they want the hospital to stay, they have to contribute to it.

As a result, his Charity Hospital is able to charge the patients who can afford to pay. (About 40 percent of them can, he says, at a rate of U.S. $12 per stay.) When the hospital was started, it ran strictly on donations. Now, about 40 percent of its funding comes from patient fees, a more sustainable source of income.

2. Prevention. The hospital, like many medical facilities, focuses heavily on preventive care. But the Christian Mission of Pignon, which operates the hospital, has branched into economic and other nonmedical programs aimed at keeping people out of destitution and out of the hospital. For example, CMP started a microlending program in Pignon about 12 years ago, to give small loans to enterprising women. (It's a concept that Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus later made famous.)

"When they get the budget course, they get training in health care - how to take care of their babies, how to take care of themselves," Theodore said.

"That's what I call integrated health care."

3. Education. Unemployment and underemployment in Haiti are widespread: Two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. And most of the skilled labor leaves the country.

"Everybody stays where life is better," said Theodore, though he's a notable exception to that rule.

So CMP has started a program where it will find funding for a student to go to a university if that student agrees to work in Pignon for a few years afterward. Twenty-eight students are currently in the program.

Said Theodore: "I have some of them working in the hospital now."

Fast Facts: Dr. Guy D. Theodore
Age: 66.
Background: He studied medicine in Port-au-Prince, completed his surgical residency in the United States, practiced in New York and in the U.S. Air Force. He returned to Haiti in 1983 to start the hospital.
About the hospital: It started with 30 beds, and will expand to 100 this year. It has also added four rural clinics. It is operated by the nonprofit Christian Mission of Pignon, or CMP.
About CMP: It has grown to encompass nonmedical projects as well: water purification, well drilling, seven primary schools, university scholarships, reforestation and microlending.
Tampa Bay connection: Charmant Theodore, who lives in Tampa, is the executive director of CMP. He is also Guy Theodore's cousin, and a former University of Florida professor.

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 00:34:57]

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