Lending a healing hand: Mount nursing students aid Dominican Republic

March 27, 2015

Jessica Martinez of Monroe, N.Y. (left) and Kelly Baker of LaGrangeville, N.Y., Mount Saint Mary College seniors, feed a disabled child in an impoverished shanty town in the Dominican Republic.

Instead of going on vacation this spring break, more than a dozen seniors in the Mount Saint Mary College nursing program – armed with thousands of health supplies – made a humanitarian journey to the Dominican Republic.

The students, joined by Mount faculty members Dianne Murphy, Ann Corcoran, and Linda Ruta, headed to impoverished areas known as bateyes to assess residents’ health and provide care to individuals and families. They were nearly 1,700 miles away from New York.

According to Murphy, the group handed out some 800 “health packs,” which contained soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a washcloth, over the counter pain relievers, and more. Mount faculty, students and staff, their families, and members of the greater Newburgh, N.Y. community donated the supplies, including thousands of vitamins, 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 about 30 and distributed.

The students, Corcoran explained, “put a phenomenal amount of work in the trip, including obtaining donations to bring to the bateyes, preparing medications for distribution, and seeing patients.”

Corcoran notes that they also visited Hospital Regional in San Pedro de Macoris and were given a tour of the facility.

(RIght) Benjamin Hayes of Fishkill, N.Y., a Mount nursing major, aids a disabled boy at Casa de Luz, a home for children with special needs.

Finally, the Mount team 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.

During their five-day stay, the seniors and their Mount mentors aided more than 2,000 people.

In the bayetes, “there’s very little access to healthcare,” explained Mount nursing student Brianna Perazella of Cheshire, Conn. “And because of that, small health problems get worse and worse.”

Perazella added that the Mount group encountered ailments such as ear-, tooth- and headaches, high blood pressure, infections, and – thanks to unclean water supplies – dehydration.

(Left) Mount nursing students, including Alyssa Bavuso of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. (left) and Irene Santiago of Hopewell Junction, N.Y. (right), worked in Dominican Republic clinics where rooms were separated not with walls, but sheets.

Irene Santiago of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., who works as a patient care technician at Mid Hudson Regional Hospital, said the experience strengthened the students’ skills, including patient assessment, prioritization, and becoming a more autonomous nurse.

Their clinical work in hospitals throughout the tri-state area helped prepare the seniors, explained Mackenzie Rohde of Freeport, N.Y. However, in the bateyes, the tools students are used to having in the US are in short supply.

“When we were assessing patients, there was a lot of creative thinking,” said Rohde. “You’re playing detective. We talk about critical thinking skills in class, but this gave us a great opportunity to use those skills in the field.”

Rohde pointed out that part of treating patients was to educate them.

“Oral hygiene, washing your hands, cleaning cuts – I even had two women who didn’t know what menstrual cramps are,” she explained. “Just knowing simple ways to protect yourself and what’s happening to your body can lower anxiety and increase healthy habits.”

Santiago noted that “with medication comes education. We taught our patients how to use the medication we gave them so it would be effective.”

While most other students only speak English and communicated through translators, Santiago is fluent in Spanish, and easily conversed with many patients. Often, other students would ask Santiago for a helping hand.

“I can see how speaking Spanish can help nurses here in America and in the Dominican Republic too,” she explained.

When asked if they would go on another humanitarian trip, all the students replied enthusiastically: Yes.

“In a heartbeat,” said Perazella.

In addition to Mount faculty and Rohde, Santiago, and Perazella, the sojourner servants in the group were: master’s candidates Kristina Thompson of West Point, N.Y.; Theresa Halloran of Stone Ridge, N.Y.; Kaye Saludares of Newburgh, N.Y.; Christian Plaza of Newburgh, N.Y.; Ron Vales of Trumbell, Conn.; and Diane Volk of Hopewell Junction, N.Y.; accelerated students Jacquelyn Augusto of Wallkill, N.Y.; Amy Locitzer of Cold Spring, N.Y.; Jessica Torres of Washingtonville, N.Y.; Benjamin Hayes of Fishkill, N.Y.; and Jennifer Goldstein of Wallkill, N.Y.; and traditional undergrad seniors Kelly Baker of LaGrangeville, N.Y.; Sarah Muller of Wappingers Falls, N.Y.; Jessica Martinez of Monroe, N.Y.; Danielle Piperato of Thiells, N.Y.; Maggie Mowbray of LaGrangeville, N.Y.; Sonya Mattera of Monroe, N.Y.; Alyssa Bavuso of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.; and Caprice Cervone of Wallkill, N.Y. Also participating was Murphy’s daughter, Kristie, who is a registered nurse and an alumna of the Mount’s undergraduate nursing program.

The journey marks the Mount’s fourth group trip to the region. Last academic year, more than a dozen Mount students participated in a similar humanitarian venture.

At Mount Saint Mary College, more than 45 percent of first year students aim for health professions. The Mount offers the only nationally accredited four-year nursing degree program in the mid Hudson Valley and boasts a high NCLEX-RN passage rate that consistently exceeds the state average.