NEWBURGH – More than a dozen seniors in the Mount Saint Mary College nursing program recently made a humanitarian journey to the Dominican Republic, nearly 1,700 miles away from home.
The students were joined by Mount faculty members Dianne Murphy, Ann Corcoran, and Linda Ruta.
The group headed to impoverished areas known as bateyes – populations of workers located near sugarcane manufacturing operations – to assess residents’ health and provide care to individuals and families. They settled in the community of San Pedro de Macoris.
According to Murphy, the students handed out 450 "health packs," which contained soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, adhesive bandages, and more. Mount faculty, students and staff, their families, and members of the greater Newburgh, N.Y. community donated the supplies, including thousands of vitamin pills, all of which had to stay in their original packaging until the students arrived in the Dominican Republic. Then, the vitamins were divided up into packs of 30 and distributed.
Rounding out the supplies were over-the-counter pain relievers, medication to fight parasites, first aid provisions, and antacids.
The students taught basic first aid techniques – such as how to clean and bandage small wounds – and handed out supplies such as antibiotic ointment, tape, and bandages to those in need. They also provided information on hygiene, such as the importance of washing one’s hands.
The Mount team also visited Casa de Luz, which translates to "House of Light," a home for children with special needs. They provided children’s vitamins, baby wipes, ointment to relieve diaper rash, infant and children’s pain relievers, washcloths, shampoo, and baby powder.
"This is a big team project for the students," Corcoran explained. "They put a phenomenal amount of work in the trip, including obtaining donations to bring to the bateyes, preparing medications for distribution, and the seeing patients."
During their five-day stay, the seniors aided more than 1,000 people.
The journey marks the Mount’s third group trip to the region. Last academic year, more than two dozen Mount students participated in a similar humanitarian venture with Murphy, Corcoran, and Jeanne Roth, an associate professor of nursing.
"It became more familiar," observed Corcoran, of her return visit. "I felt more seasoned. I was able to do things more efficiently this time around. But in terms of the community needs, it’s much like the last time: There’s still a big medical need there."
The Mount group encountered ailments such as ear-, tooth- and headaches, parasites, goiters, high blood pressure, allergies, open wounds, fungal infections, rashes, urinary tract infections, and more.
Christian Plaza of Newburgh, N.Y. said the visit gave him and his classmates more than just a chance to practice their nursing techniques.
"We provided as much treatment and personal care as possible," he explained. "We really tried to listen and treat our patients as people, not just the next one in line."
The clinics where the students served came as a bit of a shock to Gabriella Scaglione of Dix Hills, N.Y. (a hamlet in the town of Huntington, Long Island).
"When you go to the doctor’s office in America, you go to a sterile area," she said. "Here, a church and a school were our clinics, with sheets as our dividers. You could hear everything going on, and it required a bit of an adjustment."
Their clinical work in hospitals throughout the tri-state area helped prepare the seniors, explained Rachel Berglund of Vernon, Conn.; however, in the bateyes, "You had to truly adapt," she explained. "All of the supplies you have in the hospital, you don’t have in the clinic."
Supplies, they said, were exhausted quickly.
"But the fact that we could provide some help, and speak with them personally, was therapeutic for them," said Plaza.
Plaza speaks fluent Spanish, and easily communicated with the people of San Pedro de Macoris. Other Mount students and faculty spoke through translators.
"Reading body language was very important for us," explained Brittney Jones of Middletown, N.Y. "Even if we didn’t understand Spanish, we often knew what areas to target: for example, if a patient was holding his ear or rubbing his arm."
And by the second day, said Emily Blew of Columbus, N.J., the students had learned enough Spanish to understand basic sentences and symptoms.
The experience helped the seniors strengthen their nursing skills, including patient assessment, prioritization, and becoming a more autonomous nurse. They also knew when to ask a physician for help, pointed out Berglund.
"It was a humbling experience," said Jones. "Everyone – kids, grandparents, and parents – was giving us hugs. They were so patient and so kind, and they hadn’t had anything to eat or drink because they were waiting on line to see us. They all smiled."
Scaglione said the conditions required her to rely more on educating the patient. For example, she told asthma patients to keep away from the smoke created from burning both garbage and sugarcane.
She added, "As an American nurse, it’s easy for us to tell a patient to take medication with food. But one gentleman I cared for, who had high blood pressure, couldn’t take his pills because he didn’t have food. That really touched my heart."
lew said the trip strengthened her Christian faith.
"When I came back, I was so thankful," she explained. "It reinforced that I should speak to God more often to thank Him for what I have, not just ask for something when I’m in need."
When asked if they would go on another humanitarian trip, the students replied enthusiastically: Yes.
"We were very tired and we worked very hard," Jones said. "But we felt ecstatic. We all felt like we achieved something great. We really wanted to stay longer – we had more to do and there was so little time.
"Not only did I grow as a nurse, but I grew as a person."
In addition to Mount faculty and Plaza, Scaglione, Blew, Jones and Berglund, the sojourner servants in the group were: Brianna Passaretti of Holbrook, N.Y.; Kristie Guarino of Oakdale, N.Y.; Samantha Killmer of Amenia, N.Y.; Chelsea Fasano of LaGrangeville, N.Y.; Nicole Petkevicius of Long Beach, N.Y.; Katie Dwyer of Goshen, N.Y.; Samantha Bova of Poughquag, N.Y.; Elyssa Nigri of Carmel, N.Y.; Gretchen Hafner of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., Kathryn Lynn of Hopewell Junction, N.Y.; and Kelly O’Connor of New Paltz, N.Y. The seniors were joined by alumna nurse Theresa Shalley-Russo ’85 of Nesconset, N.Y., and Dr. Paul Saladino of Newburgh, N.Y.