F.A. Wilhelm Construction’s Michael Greven shares much needed healthcare expertise in Kenya
Michael Greven, Senior Project Manager for F.A. Wilhelm Construction, is no stranger to the challenges that come with healthcare construction projects – regardless of location. Working on two successful projects in Kenya where construction technology is sometimes 30-40 years behind what is available to U.S. companies today, Greven is highly adept at overcoming obstacles associated with building projects both here and abroad.
Working through AMPATH, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, Greven participated on two major construction projects to bring much needed healthcare services to the people of Kenya. AMPATH is a consortium of U.S. academic health centers led by Indiana University working with Moi University and the government in Kenya to improve the delivery of public healthcare.
Greven’s first construction project – the Riley Mother – Baby Hospital – is a three-story, 75,000-foot modern medical facility and neonatal intensive care unit that opened in 2009 providing care for women and babies throughout western Kenya. In 2012, he returned to spend the next three years helping build a new 110,000 square-foot oncology center in Eldoret, Kenya.
Reflecting on the differences between healthcare construction projects in Kenya and those in the U.S., Greven said that when it comes to basic construction, the techniques employed in Kenya are essentially the same as those used here. “But, the manner in which things are done is different,” he said.
Greven said although Kenya doesn’t have access to the large variety of materials available in this country, they do have the basic materials they need for construction. Most everything is built with concrete. Greven said getting modern equipment can be very difficult and in many cases, they’re working with equipment several decades old, adding that “anything that has to do with medical equipment has to be imported.”
With regard to the software technology used in the industry, Greven said they use many of the same types of programs U.S. companies do. For example, architectural companies there model themselves after the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “So, they use the same types of drawing programs we use here like AutoCAD, etc. They sometimes don’t have the latest versions,” he explained. Greven said they also have access to modeling technology but because the software is older, modeling is accomplished in a more rudimentary way.
According to Greven, there’s no shortage of construction laborers in Kenya. Laborers there earn just $3-5 a day, which is considered a good salary. Someone with skills – a plumber or electrician – can earn $8-10 per day. “But finding skilled labor is more difficult,” Greven said. “The labor pool is there, but the skills are limited. You have to widen your search when it comes to finding professionals with specialized skills.”
The team went to South Africa to find a designer with the skills necessary to design the bunkers for the facility’s radiation services. “When you’re building bunkers to hold linear accelerators for radiation oncology, there’s no margin for error.” Greven said. The purpose of the bunkers was to provide a safe way to deliver radiation therapy to cancer patients. “There’s no lead available to protect the healthcare workers from radiation. So, they built two bunkers with 10-foot thick concrete walls instead.” Greven said one will be used to provide high-dose radiation (HDR) for cervical cancer patients and the other will facilitate radiation treatment for other types of cancers.
One of the biggest challenges in construction is communication. “You have to be able to communicate with large groups of people. You have to make sure everyone is being heard and understood so that everyone gets what they think they’re getting,” Greven said.
Greven said in Kenya, language barriers can be a bigger problem with laborers than they are with those in the skilled areas of construction. Although English is considered the primary language, with 38 different ethnic groups in the country, each with their own language, communication is challenging. Greven’s ability to speak some Swahili helped, but for him, working in Kenya has reinforced the need to focus on communication because there, it is the number one issue on any project.
Modest about his role in helping to deliver quality healthcare to the people of Kenya, Greven is clearly proud of what AMPATH has accomplished there. He said the maternity hospital, now considered one of the finest in western Kenya, delivers about 15,000 babies a year. And, although the cancer care center is waiting on the Kenyan government to provide the radiation equipment it needs, the chronic disease care facility is also complete. The facility now provides chemotherapy services to more than 500 patients a month, and its breast and cervical cancer screening programs serve nearly 5,000 patients a year to promote early detection and treatment.
“I’ve always been interested in healthcare projects,” Greven said, adding that he believes good public health care services should be available everywhere. “The importance of providing good quality healthcare for people of all means is critical.”
Aside from his work at the hospital and construction site, Greven and his family spent a fair amount of time supporting, both physically and financially, two children’s homes near their town of Eldoret. The number of orphans and abandoned children in Kenya is staggering, and there is no shortage of need, so Greven pitched in to help an orphanage in Kitale, home to over 85 children. They journeyed to the facility once a month (a 2-hour drive) and brought much needed staples, helped with the gardens, purchased fruit seeds and trees, and aided in organizational issues, including fundraising. They were also able to retain a grant for a solar water pump project so that the children didn’t have to spend so much time trudging uphill to obtain water for cleaning, bathing, and cooking. The Grevens have a not for profit which continues to support sustainability projects in Kenya, EcoSource Sustainable Initiatives.