Providence Team on Medical Mission to Guatemala

September 27, 2013

A team of surgeons, nurses and surgical technicians from Providence medical centers in Southern California will leave Friday for a week-long trip to Guatemala where members will care for villagers who have little access to comprehensive medical care.

This first international medical mission sponsored by the newly formed Providence Health International will include eight surgeons and anesthesiologists, assisted by 11 nurses and two surgical technicians who will perform general surgeries, primarily hernia operations and laparoscopic gall bladder removals. All but one of the patients scheduled for procedures are adults.

Katherine Bullard, R.N., chief nursing officer for Providence Health & Services Southern California, is leading the group, along with Sr. Colleen Settles, OP, regional director of mission leadership. The 28-member team is composed of representatives from each of Providence’s five Los Angeles-area medical centers.

“This is PHI’s first venture into international medical services, a pioneer trip to provide services as a mission to another country,” Bullard said. “We have a really good group of clinicians who volunteered to participate because they are motivated to serve in a unique way.”

Providence Health International is teaming with Houston-based Faith in Practice, a nonprofit organization with vast experience in international medical missions. The organization was established 19 years ago and funded by volunteers.

“Faith in Practice shares our Mission of compassionate care to the poor and vulnerable and is working with Providence to plan similar trips,” said Michael Hunn, chief executive of Providence Southern California. “This is a tremendous example of what it means to be people of Providence, leaving the comforts of our ministries to work as a team, living our core values of excellence and compassion in caring for those in need.”

Also taking the trip is Michelle Boucher, a photography and art teacher at Providence High School in Burbank. Boucher will document the group’s work and adventures, and blog daily on the Faith and Practice web site. Links to that blog will be available at California.Providence.org.

“I’m really excited to be a part of such an important venture, and to be able to share this with my students not only through photography and journalism, but through a first-hand look at volunteer service,” Boucher said.

The group will leave Los Angeles Friday morning and land in Antigua, Guatemala. A four-hour bus ride will take the team to a low-land jungle village where Faith in Practice volunteers already have assessed patients and schedule surgeries in what Bullard described as a “very basic” hospital. The Providence team is bringing 63 trunks of medical supplies, much of which will be left behind.

Renton, Washington-based Providence chose its Southern California regions for this inaugural international mission and plans to send teams from throughout its five-state organization on future trips to provide not only health care, but non-medical services.

Providence has sponsored physicians and employees on international missions in the past, but this new program will broaden that outreach by recruiting teams from the organization’s operating regions in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Montana.

One plan calls for assessing public health concerns; another involves working with households to replace hazardous open-flame cooking facilities with modern stoves.