Every day, St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare physicians and staff embody the
values of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange by demonstrating Dignity,
Service, Excellence and Justice as they care for their patients and families.
But did you know that beyond the walls of their medical offices, many
of these physicians and staff extend their commitment to the St. Joseph
Health mission by volunteering their time and talent to serve those in
need outside the borders of California, and even outside of the country?
One such way this team is extending the mission is through an annual service
trip as part of St. Joseph Health’s partnership with Concern America.
Last month, a team comprised of John Bennett, chief administrative officer
of St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare;
Michael Gilbert, MD; Michael Sugarman, MD, and his wife, Hilda;
Julie Hodge, MD, and her husband David; and Agatha Hernandez, medical office manager;
traveled to Petén, Guatemala, to provide hands-on care and train
local health promoters.
Above: The Heritage team explores Petén.
Bottom right: Drs. Hodge and Sugarman examine the skin condition of a patient.
“This trip is an international extension of the Sisters’ heritage
— to go into a rural community, assess the needs and partner with
like-minded individuals to serve those needs,” said Bennett, who
made the trip for the third time this year. “This kind of experience
really tugs at the heartstrings and renews my commitment to our mission.”
For the physicians, the trip to Petén was not only a way for them
to share their training and knowledge of medicine, but also provided them
with an opportunity to leave a lasting impact on a community with very
limited resources that will live well beyond their week-long visit.
“It’s very fulfilling to see the health promoters shine with
pride as they return to their individual villages with new knowledge that
will help them care for their friends and family,” said Dr. Sugarman,
who was thrilled to make his first trip this year after retirement. “One
young promoter had learned in class how to deliver a baby in a breech
position, and the next week he saved the life of one of the women in his
village who was in distress with a breech delivery – his first.”
Adds Dr. Hodge, a dermatologist who demonstrated multiple skin surgeries
during her stay: “It’s so clear that what little we do is
multiplied, as we teach a small group of health promoters how to do a
surgery or treat a disease and then they teach others, who then teach
others – it’s very impactful.”
Throughout their time in Guatemala, the non-clinical volunteers performed
tasks such as unloading supplies, taking inventories, sorting/making pill
bags and making suture hooks for practice with the health promoters. “It
was an honor to contribute to the great need in the community,”
said Hernandez. “Our providers worked with limited resources or
comforts while treating each patient with Dignity and Justice. Their great
work was reflected in that some patients took a six-hour bus ride one-way
to come see them. Word is getting around about what an amazing job they
do during their time there.”
Dr. Gilbert, who helps organize the trip and form the team each year, says
the highlight of the journey remains the same: “I am blessed to
be part of a community of gracious, caring people, who do what they do
as volunteers because they care about their villages and families. I’m
grateful for the opportunity to continue to broaden the community that
cares for the people of Petén.”