Pekin Hospital’s mission is to improve patient health in our community. But recently, the definition of “community” expanded to include a village halfway around the world. From November 14 to 21, a team of about 40 people—most affiliated with the Hospital—traveled to the rural, mountainous area of Jalapa, Guatemala, to provide medical care for thousands of people with no access to traditional medicine. “The need was great,” stresses Cindy Justus, Mission Coordinator and Pekin Hospital Unit Director of ER1 and Urgent Care.
Originally, the mission group was scheduled to travel to Liberia, but the Ebola outbreak forced a change of plans. After weeks of research for an alternate location and collaboration with Drs. Van Dyke, Lovell, and Honan, Guatemala was chosen.
Preparation took place through frequent emails and monthly meetings where they tackled jobs like packaging medication into individual dosages. The team worked very hard for 10 months leading up to the trip. That preparation only took them so far, however. A facilitator from Caribbean Lifetime Missions traveled to Guatemala and established a relationship with a Guatemalan church base to identify villages with the most need of medical care. Approximately half of our mission team has participated in previous mission work and helped coordinate setting up the clinics in village school buildings. For the most part, third world countries share very similar medical concerns, but unusual area specific diagnoses always seem to crop up. “We always have to improvise,” Justus says.
The team set up a command center in their hotel’s conference room, where they divided the 35 suitcases full of supplies into fourths for the four clinic days. Each day, they took the allotted supplies to the makeshift clinic—a school, in this case, though Justus says she’s conducted clinics everywhere from churches to grass huts.
Because there’s no way to predict the ailments they’ll treat, the physicians have to make an educated guess about which medications to bring. They weren’t equipped to perform invasive or even minimally invasive procedures; severe cases were referred to the nearest hospital. Instead, they focused on conditions like parasite infestation, respiratory problems, high blood pressure, wound infections, STDs, visual problems, skin disorders, birth anomalies, arthritis, headaches, poor nutrition, dental issues and other ravages of abject poverty. In addition, every patient received prayers.
The Mission team was able to treat over 1,700 patients in four days—a recipe for physical and mental exhaustion. So what’s the draw? It’s a calling, believes Justus, who has completed ten medical missions. “I feel like I get more out of it than the patients I serve,” she says. Part of the allure is providing desperately needed front-line care, a primary reason many Pekin Hospital physicians and employees got into the field.
Supporting medical missions is a hospital-wide endeavor, from Pekin Hospital CEO Bob Haley to the hundreds of hospital employees who help with fundraising. Justus also appreciates the support of community partners and hopes it leads to a better understanding of Pekin Hospital’s purpose. “These are caregivers with compassionate hearts,” she says, “not just for our community, but for those in need around the world.”