Last month, a PBA-led medical mission team ministered to residents of a region plagued by poverty, joblessness and hunger.
They didn’t need to leave Palm Beach County to do it.
For the eighth consecutive year, graduate students from the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy joined a mission team bringing health screenings, education and counseling to Belle Glade, Pahokee and Clewiston, in the county’s westernmost reaches.
“When we think about missions, a lot of the time we think about going to a third-world country,” said Dr. Christopher Elder, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and this year’s team leader. “Being here in Palm Beach County, there’s a big need right in our backyard, and we feel in a great position to meet that need.”
The team was composed of seven pharmacy school graduate students, one PBA undergraduate, eight pharmacy students from Ohio’s Cedarville University, and several faculty members who rotated shifts throughout the week.
Each day of the weeklong endeavor, students served a different population. One day, they set up shop in a housing authority community that contains an abundance of young families, new mothers and mothers-to-be. They hosted an educational event, hosted a baby shower, discussed women’s health, and gave away prizes.
The team offered health screenings in conjunction with a food pantry run by the First United Methodist Church of Clewiston. Another day, they served at the West County Senior Center in Belle Glade. Elder said many of the community’s senior citizens visit the center daily, to fellowship and have lunch together. When the medical mission team is in town, senior residents are invited to bring their medications to review with pharmacy students and professors. “We spend however much time they want going through their medications, looking at interactions, talking about why they’re on each one,” Elder said.
Doctoral candidate Javier Barrios Herrara was one of the PBA pharmacy students who served on the team. “For me, it was both humbling and encouraging to witness how a group of students were able to come together to help a population in need,” he said. “I loved going out to help the people of Belle Glade with whatever I could, whether that included blood pressure and blood glucose checks or bagging canned food products for struggling families. Each day I could see the positive impact my actions had on those around me, and I am never going to forget how great that felt.”
Mid-week, the team encountered a woman in deep distress due to her untreated, unmedicated diabetes. “Her blood sugar reading was through the roof,” Elder said. “She couldn’t check her blood sugar, had no medication. She was just kind of lost.” She also spoke very little English.
Barrios Herrara helped her feel understood. He tells the rest of the story best: “She had trouble finding a doctor, and when she did find one, she was charged more than $100 per visit. She explained that going to the doctor at that price would mean she wouldn’t have enough money at the end of the month to buy food or pay bills, so she stopped going. With Dr. Elder's help, I was able to translate and give her the contact information about a special clinic that charges very little to nothing for people in her situation.”
“Words can’t describe how grateful she was. It’s like her whole world turned around. She was incredibly happy and overwhelmed with emotion. I remember her asking, ‘And what about my kids? Can I take my kids there too? I haven’t been able to take them for a checkup. And what about dental? Can they check their teeth there?’ To be able to say yes to all of those questions was the best gift I could ever offer anyone.”