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Ascension Via Christi's third Medical Mission at Home a success

Ben Hall Jeannine Schaffer

Amanda Gallardo has worked full time as a cake decorator for 20 years for a small, local bakery.

Her employer does not offer health insurance and the mother of two teenagers says she is unable to afford it on her own, so she goes without.

“As a parent, you pay your bills, you take care of your family and your own health needs tends to be the last to get taken care of if they get taken care of at all,” says Amanda, who was among the more than 200 registered participants who took part in this year’s Ascension Via Christi Medical Mission at Home in Wichita.

While that number doesn’t include some who came just for community support services such as the groceries and personal hygiene and clothing items donated by Ascension Via Christi associates, it does reflect the number of individuals and families assigned a patient guide. 

The volunteer patient guides role was to ensure that they availed themselves of all applicable medical services and resources at the event, which included medical exams; onsite lab testing and pharmacy; vision, hearing and dental screening; and community resources ranging from transportation assistance to clinical research trials.

They were just one of the roles filled by the more than 600 volunteers who joined Ascension Via Christi, Wichita State University, Newman University, the City of Wichita and dozens of other community partners to host the daylong event on Saturday, April 13, at Mueller Aerospace and Engineering Discovery Magnet Elementary School.

“So many amazing volunteers in our community brought care to neighbors who face barriers to the resources they need to manage their health,” says Charity Clark, director of Case Management and project leader for this year’s day of free healthcare. “This is a great example of Wichitans coming together to make a difference in our community!”

Billy Turner, 52, who receives his medical care at Guadalupe Clinic, was the first to have a tooth pulled, one of four extractions performed in a mobile unit staffed by the WSU dental program. It had been years, he said, since he had last been seen by a dentist, even though he had a tooth that had been causing him pain for more than a month. Asked about the experience afterwards, he gave it a big thumbs up.

Minnie Pearson, who at 68 still works a part-time job, has medical coverage, but came to the event for the dental and vision services. “You still have to pay so much out of pocket, even with insurance,” she says — noting that those funds are hard to come for people living on a limited income.

Many participants had other medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure, and consequently needed to have their extractions performed in a full-service dental office. These patients were given $50 dental vouchers, of which all 100 had been distributed by the end of the event.

Bettye Amend, who works part-time waiting tables, and her nephew Bubba, were among the early arrivals — many of whom are employed but have no medical insurance.

Despite the number of people waiting to be seen, Bettye was pleasantly surprised by how quickly she was seen by providers, pleased to have been set up for follow-up care and amazed that it was all at no cost to her. Plus, she says, “I can’t get over how nice and friendly everyone is, including the doctors and nurses. I felt that I was seen and heard by people who cared about helping me.”

Later in the morning, Francisco Villanueva of Hutchinson came to get checked out, explaining that his younger brother experienced his second heart attack three weeks earlier and that his father had died of a heart attack 10 years ago.

“My 16-year-old son is doing very well in school and I need to be around to see that it stays that way,” says the 48-year-old cook who is uninsured and doesn’t currently have a primary care physician. His main goal was to have his blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar tested so that he could assess his own risk for heart disease and diabetes, which he says runs in his family.

“I want to know, but if you can’t afford the testing, you don’t check,” he says.

By the day’s end, more than 100 prescriptions had been dispensed and 85 lab encounters recorded, including blood panels, strep screens and pregnancy and urine tests.

Says Ruth Hommertzheim, the advanced practice nurse who led the clinical team: “It was amazing to see everyone come together as teams and the outstanding care that they provided.”

Benny Jacobs, who has shined shoes for a living for more than 30 years, can attest to that. He celebrated his 78th birthday at the event and received a full checkup, hearing screen and financial assistance with a much-needed hearing aid. 

“Hearing aids are expensive — about $5,000 for the ones I’m needing — and the assistance I received today brings me so much closer to fixing my problem,” he says.

Along with the medical services, Benny was thankful for the kindness of the staff and the efficiency of the process. For staff, his infectious smile and genuine appreciation touched their hearts throughout the day, and many stopped to sing him “Happy Birthday” as he was leaving.

“What you guys are doing is phenomenal and it really changes people’s lives. It was a fantastic way to spend my birthday,” he says.

Peg Tichacek, chief mission integration officer and executive sponsor for the event, says it also was a wonderful reflection of Ascension’s Mission and values in action.

“Reaching out to our community in unity with our community partners is really what our Mission is all about,” says Tichacek.

CLICK HERE for a full photo gallery from the 2019 Medical Mission.

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Medical Mission participants and volunteers pictured here, from top:
  • Ben Hall gets a medical check-up with Jeannine Schaffer, APRN, from Ascension Via Christi.
  • Volunteer patient navigator Ellen Walker, a Wichita State University student pursuing her master’s in Social Work, helped 48-year-old Francisco Villaneuva access the medical, dental and other services he needed at the event.
  • Escorted by volunteer patient navigator Rasheeda Henderson, an associate in Ascension Via Christi's Health Information Management department, standing, Minnie Pearson gets evaluated for services in the dental care area.
  • Volunteer Jason Rogers is a scribe for Ascension Medical Group Via Christi's clinic on Amidon in Wichita. He served patients in the screening area Saturday.
  • Billy Turner was the first to have a tooth pulled, one of four extractions performed in a mobile unit staffed by the WSU dental program.
  • Participant Amanda Gallardo
About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.