The renovated Vincente Fernandes Mejia medical center in Santa Rosa de Copan opened Oct. 31 2014 to a standing-room only crowd of Honduran and American dignitaries, TV and radio crews, Honduran and American citizens and of course, Central American Medical Outreach team members.
“I don’t think there is a comparison. This is a million times better,” said Emily Lee, who taught classes at the public health center for CAMO’s asthma team before the renovations to the building. She went on to describe the old building as dark, confusing and crowded with “too many people and not enough space.”
The center has served patients from an area that encompasses 22 cities and 3,242 square miles. The average volume of patients is 180 per day or about 43,000 per year. It has served only patients in extreme poverty — earning less than $1 a day — since the early 1960s when it was built. The numbers served at the center have continued to increase as the building continued to decline.
About 600 people from Santa Rosa, across Honduras and from the United States, attended the inauguration of the renovated health center, funded primarily by Central American Medical Outreach and its supporters from Wayne County.
In her remarks to the crowd, Dr. Yolani Batres, Honduran minister of health, recalled how the lobby area had a leaky roof, and on rainy days, pregnant women would wait, bundled from the chill, in a waiting area filled with buckets to catch the water. On those days, the lights were likely to fail.
“You would open the breaker box, and all of this water would flow out of it,” she said. “Everything was damaged. Nothing worked.”
CAMO served as the general contractor and primary fundraiser the project.
The renovated clinic — about 17,000 square feet, with 37 rooms — is not all “new,” however. In keeping with CAMO’s model of recycling, repurposing and making the best use of in-kind donations, almost all the cabinetry came from Wooster Community Hospital — cabinetry that after a hospital remodel would have been trashed had it not found new life in Honduras.
Much of the electrical expertise came from Ohio, also.
Mike McClintock of Wooster, owner of McClintock Electric, has a long history with CAMO. Previously, he helped CAMO help Hospital de Occidente, the city hospital, with electrical issues that, at times, proved life-threatening for patients.
He brought the same expertise to address the needs of the health center, which faced sporadic power outages that disrupted services.
“Lighting was nonexistent,” McClintock said. Throughout the building, “things didn’t work,” he said, adding often if a room had a working receptacle, it was likely not grounded.
In addition, the old building had little air movement. Now the health center has efficient circulation throughout. The mechanical engineering, which includes the circulation system, also has an Ohio connection: Hinkle Engineering of Wooster.
“It’s like a dream,” Mariana Avita said through an interpreter. A former RN who worked for 24 years at the public health center, she retired “when it was still ugly.”
Kathy Tschiegg, executive director of CAMO, founded the organization in 1993 after seeing the intense need in the Santa Rosa area while serving in the Peace Corp. Officials gave much of the kudos to Tschiegg for the renovation project.
In her remarks, she said donors and funds coming together to renovate the health center is an example of what can happen when people sow “the good seed in their hearts,” which she encouraged the audience to do. “Not being able to do everything is no excuse for not doing what we can.”
Dr. Lourdes Villela Robles has served as director of the health center and was instrumental in design and leadership during the renovation. She will continue as director and was recognized at the dedication.
“When looking for leadership, you want people with humility and wreckless generosity. You have two such people in your midst who have brought this project to this place,” David Noble said in his remarks.
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