This week we are celebrating National Nurses Week by recognizing the PHS nurses who inspire, innovate and influence their coworkers and the people who receive their care. Among the many skilled and compassionate nurses of Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS), are those whose care reaches across the world through The International Nurse Recruitment Program (INR). In February of this year, 22 INR nurses returned to their native Philippines as part of the 2018 Medical Mission team. The mission was organized by the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association and supported by Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS).
Margot Zerruda, RN on call for PHS and former clinical coordinator at Maranatha in Brooklyn Center, MN, was a member of the team. The mission to Bais City, located in her home region of Negros Oriental, was Margot’s first homecoming since she arrived in Minnesota from Philippines in 2014 through INR. She was one of the 153 volunteers from the United States who joined the medical mission team. The team was led by Jim Chalmers, General Manager of INR. They were joined by over 100 local Filipino medical volunteers, including medical personnel affiliated with International Personnel Resources (IPR).
The Philippines is known for training highly skilled medical professionals who work all over the world including about 20% of the nurses at PHS communities. However, the usual cost of health care services in the Philippines is often out of reach for most people. In Bais City, a rapidly growing city of over 76 thousand people, it is estimated that over 60% of the population have never received modern health care. Before the mission team arrived, Bais District Hospital, the city’s 70 year old hospital was furnished with medical equipment and instruments equally old.
The first group of U.S. and local volunteers, known as the “Advance Team,” arrived in early February to refurbish and retrofit the hospital with updated and new equipment. They were met by three 40 ft. containers of medical equipment and supplies for the hospital. Over $10 thousand worth of equipment donated by PHS included reusable hospital beds, mattresses, wheel chairs and walkers to help supply the hospital. “When you get a well-equipped hospital with the proper resources, you can save lives,” Jim said.
Two operating rooms were set up for a range of procedures in obstetrics and gynecology; otolaryngology, plastic surgery and more. The team prepared dental and optical clinics to be ready for patients.
“We opened on Monday, February 11,” said Jim, “yet over 500 people were lined up by Saturday, many whom had walked,” he said. Physicians from Allina, Health East, and Fairview Health Services located in the Twin Cities area treated patients. Across five full and busy days, the medical team saw about 7,800 people. They performed over 170 major surgeries and nearly 300 minor surgeries, 1,700 dental procedures and numerous eye screenings. Over $75 thousand worth of medicines were dispensed to patients. All services and medications were free. “Probably 90% of the people we served would not have received the medical attention they needed had they not been seen by our team,” Jim said.
Margot’s knowledge of the local people and their culture proved to be a tremendous resource to the U.S team. She and the INR nurses served as language interpreters between the physicians and patients so that the physicians could better understand the needs of the people and the people could better understand the explanations and directions of the physicians. Much of her time was spent in the eye clinic where she used laser technology to determine a patient’s visual correction needs. She then selected a prescription from over 6000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses that were measured, labeled, tested and sorted in bins by the Advance Team. “People who had vision problems their entire lives were seeing clearly for the first time,” she said. When Margo gave the right eyeglasses to a 50 year old seamstress, who had been unable to work because of her failing eyesight, the woman began to cry with joy. “She told me, ‘You people are God-sent. My prayers have been answered.’ Then she told me how the new glasses would enable her to return to work,” Margot said.
Margot and her teammates worked every day from 6 am to 6 pm. “Everything started with a prayer and ended with a prayer,” she said, “and, although it was exhausting work, no one complained because we were in it together.”
Jim is also grateful for the way everyone worked together, including local police, government and community leaders. The renovated hospital will provide better and more comprehensive service. “It will improve the health of the community,” said Jim
A critical nursing shortage in the US in the late 1990s paved the way for the creation of IPR as a health-care recruitment business in the Philippines. IPR partnered with INR, a PHS affiliated organization formed for the purpose of addressing nursing shortages in senior housing and services. Since IPR started in 2001, it has sent to the U.S. more than 350 nurses and more than a thousand individuals, including their families, as qualified dependents under the Employment-based Immigrant Visa category.
Jim said that the medical missions also give him an opportunity to meet with top nursing graduates and IPR nurses already working through the lengthy process (average over 2 years) to immigrate to the U.S. A major hurdle for IPR nurses is gaining clinical experience. Through the medical missions, Jim is now able to negotiate clinical experiences for IPR nurses at local hospitals in the Philippines, as well as give them a place to return and serve their own country and people once they’ve honed their skill in the U.S.
“I’m most thankful for our leadership under Dan Lindh, President & CEO of PHS, for giving us the opportunity with funding, time, donations, prayer support and encouraging us to serve, not only here but also in the Philippines,” Jim said.
Although they have returned and unpacked their bags, Jim, Margot and others on the team are still unpacking the significance of the mission. Reflecting on her experience, Margot said, “The mission has opened up my heart even more. It’s about the giving. Simple things in life for us are really big for others.”