Genesis Employees Find Their Mission

There is no paradox to the compassionate mission work Genesis Health System employees undertake every year.

Mission work is at the core of the history of health care at Genesis, beginning with the Sisters of Mercy, who arrived in Davenport in 1869 to open one of the first hospitals west of the Mississippi River.   In 1873, the Sisters of Mercy were the first to respond to a cholera outbreak in Davenport and with their care, the outbreak ran its course.

Mission work continues today throughout Genesis Health System.  President and CEO Doug Cropper participated in a medical mission trip to Peru and encourages others to reach out through the Mission Scholarship Award program available to employees.

Karen Doy, manager of cardiac rehabilitation at Genesis, has participated in nearly a dozen mission trips.  She was a winner of a 2013 Mission Scholarship Award.

Deb Stockdale has made more than a dozen trips to the tiny mountaintop village of Bonados, Haiti with a faith-based team to focus efforts on a school feeding program for malnourished children. She also won a Genesis Mission Scholarship Award in 2013.

Former Genesis executive, Joe Lohmuller, a general surgeon, has made numerous trips to Peru to provide surgical care for the underserved in Arequipa. Doug Cropper joined Lohmuller’s group in 2011 and Genesis has donated thousands of dollars of supplies and medical equipment over the years to Dr. Lohmuller’s team.

Pharmacy technician Miluska Kendall, who grew up in Lima, Peru, won the first-ever Genesis Mission Scholarship Award.  She joined Dr. Lohmuller’s team in Arequipa.

“We ask Genesis employees to ask themselves what difference they can make in someone’s life today, this week and throughout the year,’’ Cropper explained. “Our Genesis mission addresses ‘all those in need,’ so really that offers an inexhaustible list of ways our employees can dedicate themselves in service to others.

“I truly believe and know from personal experience, that going on a medical mission trip is one of the best ways to reinvigorate your dedication to health care; refresh your commitment to the Genesis mission; and, rediscover the extraordinary value of what we do in health care.’’

Priceless Experience
Every Genesis employee who participates in a medical mission trip returns home with memories and rewards.

Miluska Kendall remembers the woman who arrived at the clinic in Arequipa at closing time. She was extremely poor and grasped a flattened tube of ointment.  She had squeezed every last bit of the cream out of the tube.

She asked for more of the ointment for her chronic condition.  Kendall, using her native language, told the relieved woman she would receive two tubes of the ointment and there would be no charge.

“The woman was so relieved.  She just broke down and cried,’’ Kendall recalls. “She gave me a hug and that had such a big impact for me.’’

Karen Doy’s ninth trip took her farther from her Geneseo, Illinois home than she’d ever been. Sleeping in a tent on an island in Lake Victoria, Africa, Doy and her husband, Steve, along with 23 other volunteers, spent 10 days providing medical, dental and optical care to residents of the isolated Buvuma Islands in Uganda. 

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said Doy. “The country was beautiful and the people were so loving and appreciative. You really felt like you were accomplishing something.

“You get so much more out of it than what you put in to it.  You have wonderful memories of your interactions with people you’re helping, and of the members of your mission team.”

Doy’s team was up each day at first light and eating breakfast.  From their base camp in a pasture on a centrally located island, the team would board long boats for a 60 to 90 minute ride to the island of the day.  The Buvuma Island district consists of 52 islands in the northern part of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. 

Though she spent two to three hours on the water every day, Doy and the other Macedonian Vision Project volunteers had to be carried to and from their boats to avoid contracting Schistosomiasis (Shih-stow-so-MY-a-sis) a chronic liver disease caused by a parasitic worm. The worm, or fluke, multiplies in freshwater snails and infects anyone who swims, washes clothes or collects water from the lake. Schistosomiasis perpetuates the cycle of poverty by impairing the development of children and the productivity of adults.  Communities bordering Lake Victoria in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya have particularly high rates of the disease.

Working mostly through interpreters speaking Luganda and Swahili, Doy’s mission team covered 9 islands and saw nearly 1,300 patients during the trip.  Doy worked the vision clinic, where they fit islanders with eye glasses and triaged patients, directing them to see the doctor, nurse, pharmacy or wherever they needed to go. She even worked with a dentist who joined the trip.

Clinics were set up under tarps or in crude buildings, where in addition to distributing de-worming pills and vitamins, the group treated Ugandans for fevers, illnesses requiring antibiotics, wounds and venereal diseases. 

“We wanted to help as many people as possible, but we had to turn people away at the end of the day, and that was hard,” says Doy. “We worked through lunch every day, but never exhausted a line. There always were more people waiting to be seen.”

Because they traveled by boat, the volunteers had to leave each island while there was still enough light to navigate back to base camp. With no electricity, the evening meal was eaten in the dark around a fire, and consisted of native Ugandan food, such as rice and beans, sweet and sour cabbage, fresh fish, chapati (unleavened bread) and bananas, pineapple and jackfruit. 

Serving Haiti’s Children
Deb Stockdale, a nurse in the rehabilitation unit at Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park, has directed a group of volunteers in Bonados, Haiti, a tiny mountaintop village in the south.

“We’ve done medical clinics and construction, but our primary focus is the school and the feeding program. We have 100 kids now,” explained Stockdale. “We knew we wanted to build a relationship with a community so that we could come back and see the kids grow. One of the kids in school when I first started making the trip is now a teacher there. I really think that we’ve been able to make a difference.” 

Traveling to Haiti every year since 2000 has allowed Stockdale to take note of improving conditions there.  After a flight to the capitol of Port Au Prince, it used to be an eight-hour ride on narrow, bumpy, largely dirt roads to get to Bonados. Now, it takes about half that time.  Aid the country received after the devastating earthquake in 2010 has been used to build better roads.

In health checks at the school in Bonados, Stockdale’s mission team finds children, by and large, doing quite well. Dehydration detected during the 2013 trip was attributed to the kids being in school all day when it’s hot and not having enough to drink. To address the problem, a plastic cistern was positioned to collect rain that runs off the school building, creating a water supply that can be accessed during the school day. 

The health checks conducted by the group each year help them judge the effectiveness of their school feeding program.  The weight, height and upper arm circumference of each child are measured.  If necessary, the child is enrolled in a malnutrition program that provides supplementary food in addition to the school feeding program.  Each child also is given a vitamin, a worm pill and checked for illness and treated, if necessary.

“Since we’ve been here providing lunch the kids are in much better health,” said Stockdale.  “You can tell which ones are in the school and which aren’t, by looking at them.  They have a better body size and black or brown hair. Those who are malnourished have a red tint to their hair.  We see that in kids from the area but not in the school.”

Stockdale’s team also gives each child uniform clothes and a backpack with school supplies. Teachers are given a gift of binder, paper, pens, toothpaste and toothbrushes for them and their families. The volunteers also provide a first aid kit for the school and leave enough basic supplies for a year. The children are fed lunch using bowls and spoons donated by Stockdale’s church in Davenport. 

With a handle on health concerns, members of Stockdale’s mission team were able to avoid a mass clinic and instead conduct home visits during their 2013 trip. Hosting visitors is an honor for the Haitians, who are given a quick health check, directed to a local missionary for antibiotics if needed, and given a first aid kit. 

The mission trips for Kendall, Doy and Stockdale were made possible through Genesis Mission Scholarship awards.  The scholarships, established in 2012, are awarded at the conclusion of Genesis Mission Month, observed each May.  Mission Month is intended to celebrate and re-commit staff to the Genesis mission of providing “compassionate, quality health services to all those in need.’’