Jim Krauss, president of Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital Medical Center, traced his history from doing health education in San Joaquin, Paraguay, as a Peace Corps volunteer to serving in an executive role in the American healthcare system in a recent lecture at EMU. Krauss also serves on the EMU Commission for the Sciences. (Photo by Michael Sheeler)

Lack of expert healthcare may increase self-responsibility, says hospital leader Jim Krauss in Suter Science lecture

If you had no access to a clinic or hospital of any kind, would you live your life differently than you do now? Would you try to maintain a healthier lifestyle, or learn more about how to take care of your own health?

Jim Krauss, president of Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital Medical Center, wishes Americans would take more responsibility for their health, as if there were no doctors. Of course, people should visit their physicians when their medical concerns are serious and out of their hands, said Krauss at a recent Suter Science Seminar held at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

Krauss’s first experience with healthcare was in a rural town in Paraguay, San Joaquin. His goal as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1980s was to identify and address health concerns in the community. He found an ignorance of germ theory, lack of hand washing, poor nutrition and hydration, unclean water, disease outbreaks, and uneducated midwives.

In San Joaquin, an hour by bus from the nearest market town, there were no doctors, and transportation was dependent on horses, donkeys, and dirt roads. Krauss was not a healthcare professional. How, then, could he address all these concerns?

In part, Krauss depended on a book titled Where There is No Doctor, a book in constant print with updated editions since the 1970s. While this book could not replace a professional when it came to cases requiring specific knowledge and expertise, it did teach the basics of self-care.

Krauss was able to improve community health through education about germs and hygiene and through working with a team of volunteers on such projects as building a cement cistern to keep animals out of the public water supply.

When Krauss came back to the United States after two years in Paraguay, he worked in several hospitals in Florida before coming to Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital Medical Center in Virginia. He also serves on the EMU Commission for the Sciences.

In Paraguay, people were often able to improve their health “without having a physician present, without having the government authorize or condone a particular activity,” said Krauss. In the United States, the same is often true. Krauss listed several things under the control of ordinary people that affect health, including daily blood sugar tests for diabetics, awareness of sexually transmitted infections, diet, and exercise.

Krauss attributed part of the increase in healthcare costs to lack of individual responsibility, citing obesity and teen pregnancy as examples. He asked if it was “part of our American society that we shed personal responsibility… and then expect the doctor to bring us back to health.”

Krauss spoke as part of EMU’s Suter Science Seminar series. Lectures are presented by experts in their field and are free and open to the public. Joseph Brewer, associate dean for research at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine, will speak March 20 at 4 p.m. about how B lymphocytes, cells that protect the body from infections, learn to recognize invaders.