Powers family gives to others through work in El Salvador
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When she is not caring for the urgent health needs of the Routt County community as an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, Dr. Laila Powers spends up to 10 weeks each year helping to improve health and stability for residents in El Salvador.
As the chief medical officer for the privately funded nonprofit ONETEAM El Salvador, Powers has volunteered in El Salvador through more than 35 visits during the past seven years.
“Being able to serve a country that is full of such wonderful people surrounded by such natural beauty side by side with my husband and kids is a dream come true,” Powers said.
The doctor said her colleagues’ flexibility in the hospital emergency room, where she has worked since 2000, is a big part of why she can dedicate so much time to medical needs and studies in the small Central American country.
“The work she and Rob are doing in El Salvador exemplifies the big hearts they both have and how health care can transcend borders,” said YVMC Chief Medical Officer Laura Sehnert, who has worked alongside Powers for 14 years.
“We’re fortunate that Dr. Powers and a number of our medical staff are willing volunteers in sharing their time and health care knowledge with organizations locally and abroad,” Sehnert said. “I have witnessed firsthand her medical expertise, compassion for patients and empathy for their loved ones.”
Rob Powers, Laila’s husband, founded the nonprofit ONETEAM El Salvador that grew from his 15 years of work in military personnel wellness for the U.S. Department of Defense. ONETEAM conducts medical and wellness case studies to determine best practice programming for the ministries of health, security and defense in El Salvador.
Earlier this month, the in-county manager of ONETEAM El Salvador, Paul Ramirez, sent a letter of commendation for Dr. Powers’ volunteer work and a thank you to the hospital leadership. Ramirez said the ongoing work with children, teens in prison and first responders has made a big difference in El Salvador.
“It is clear that the design, implementation and oversight of this current IRB (Institutional Research Board) study by Dr. Powers has brought about a positive change that will benefit over 30,000 security agents and their families and friends,” Ramirez wrote. “I would like to thank you for allowing Dr. Powers to dedicate her time, energy and medical expertise to make this study and resulting institutional policy changes occur for the people of my country.”
The Steamboat Springs couple returned home earlier this month after a trip working on the latest ONETEAM study tracking the comprehensive health of thousands of emergency responders, under assignment by the El Salvadoran government. That work grew out of a successful 18-month study in 2017-18 of pediatric patients in rural El Salvador. From that initial study, Dr. Powers introduced a more efficient, team-based model for annual evaluations for children, which was inspired by in-school sports physicals in the U.S.
“Our non-governmental organization shows best practices can be done with a small staff with minimal money,” Dr. Powers said. “We want to hand over the knowledge so that it continues and is self-sustainable for the country.”
Dr. Powers often conducts medical examinations of young teenagers from rural areas in El Salvador who have not had a doctor’s exam since they were toddlers. The doctor said she commonly finds undiagnosed issues including dental disease, pre-diabetes, pre-hypertension and heart issues.
“Watching the way Laila interacts with everyone from small children and their parents to duty hardened police and corrections agents is something to see,” Rob Powers said. “In the end, everyone comes away from the interactions with a huge smile on their faces.”
Three of the couple’s five children also volunteer in El Salvador including former Steamboat Springs High School students Erik, now a Los Angeles Police Department officer; Scott, an ER doctor in Ohio; and Robi, a student at Colorado State University.
A 10-year military veteran and a former U.S. Ski Team coach for 14 years, Rob Powers donates some 3,000 hours a year to volunteer work in El Salvador as well as continuing U.S. military resiliency programming, which has brought mentors to more than 20 countries and 600 bases worldwide.
When at home in Routt County, the Powers are often found hiking with their dogs on mountain trails. Dr. Powers also serves as a medical director for Routt County EMS.
“Rob and I feel that at the end of the day it’s not what a person has done for themselves but for others that counts,” Dr. Powers said.
Significant funding for the ONETEAM nonprofit, known in the United States as ONETEAM Colgan Foundation, is provided by former Steamboat Springs residents Sean Colgan and his wife, Dr. Bibi Colgan. For more information visit OneTeamSV.org and OneTeamCF.org.
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