Western-style medical services close to home

  • 2001-06-28
  • Mark Taylor
VILNIUS - Like many other cities in the Baltics, Vilnius has no lack of private medical facilities. However, one institution seeks to stand out from the rest by offering something different.

Founded in 1994 by American Ken Leavitt and Lithuanian Saulius Bortkevicius, the Baltic-American Medical and Surgical Clinic in the Antalkalnis region of Vilnius is a private medical clinic owned and operated as a Lithuanian-American joint venture with over 20 experienced local and foreign physicians on staff.

The clinic is modeled after a typical community hospital in the United States and was the first Western-style 24-hour surgery and therapy institution in the Baltic states. Several specialists are available to clients, including surgeons, pediatricians, gynecologists and psychiatrists.

Dr. Donald M. Coder, a surgeon with the clinic, emphasized that the clinic aims to provide services in a quick and efficient way no matter the situation.

"Our clinic is actually a bit small, but we have many different specialists on staff, high-quality facilities and we work with other centers who have equipment which we may not. We want to provide a full spectrum of medical care," he said.

Coder was keen to add that one of the clinic's main objectives is to provide Lithuanians with an alternative to the current state medical system.

"We want to offer high-standard Western-style services to as wide a range of people as possible," he explains.

Coder continues by expressing his belief that the Lithuanian government needs to encourage private medical services. "We are hoping that there will be better cooperation between the clinic and the government so that there gradually is a competitive health care system parallel with the state system so that people can make a choice," he says.

Coder admits that the significant majority of patients at the clinic are foreign but stresses that most people come with private medical insurance. "These people are not rich people," he said. "They are people with private insurance, which is an unknown concept here."

He went on to say that he felt Lithuanians should be able to decide how to spend the money that they pay into the Lithuanian national social insurance fund. "It's tragic that the average Lithuanian who knows about our clinic is not able to use it. People should be able to take the money that they have paid by tax into the healthcare system and say that they want the money to go toward their healthcare at the Baltic-American clinic or some other clinic," said Coder.

He was also keen to express his view that a medical system as free as possible from centralized control was best.

"History has shown us that the more people put control of something into the hands of a certain group of elite people, the more opportunity for corruption," he said.

Asked about how he found working with the authorities in Lithuania, Coder answered that he only saw problems in certain areas of the government. "I find the government at the highest levels to be very open and cooperative.

"We are very proud of Adamkus and pleased with a number of people in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament)" he explains. "I only find problems in the middle levels where there still seems to be lingering negative attitudes and practices from the Soviet era."

Although he feels that the system still needs many changes, Coder stresses that he has been impressed with the credentials of Lithuanian doctors.

"The level of the training of Lithuanians is very high," he said. "I have interviewed quite a few physicians who have been interested in working with the clinic and have discovered this plus I have been surprised at how many people have spent time overseas," Coder told The Baltic Times.

A native of the United States with over 30 years of medical experience, he adds that medical equipment in Lithuania was, in his opinion, excellent and that he believed Lithuania was open to more Western-style care.