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mending the body and soul
By Carrie Resch

Claudia DeLeon believes divine intervention played a part in a career change that has enriched her life and nourished her faith. Three years ago she was working as a nurse in St. Vincent Hospital’s intensive care unit when she received a hand-delivered letter from Stella Mouzon.

Stella is the manager of the St. Vincent Mobile Health Outreach Program, a ministry that provides health care to the uninsured and poor in six northeast Florida counties. She was searching for the right person to fill the program’s vacant coordinator position- someone who was bilingual, good with people and willing to earn less than what a hospital coordinator would make in salary.

When Claudia, a native of El Salvador and fluent in Spanish, interviewed for the job, she was hired on the spot.

“I was looking for something different to do and I was praying about it. I firmly believe that this was the answer to my prayers,” she said. “I think it was God’s plan for me to be part of this.”

“Claudia’s just wonderful and she’s a great fit,” Stella said. “To work with people who are poor, you have to have a special personality, and she has compassion and a heart for the program.”

Claudia oversees a team of 13 dedicated full-time employees that staff the three mobile outreach units who treat nearly 8,000 patients each year. One of the units, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, makes more than 800 annual visits to public schools in Duval County to administer physicals and immunizations to children.

The mobile units are retrofitted RVs, about 40 feet long and each has a waiting area, a private exam room and a dispensary for medications. They are equipped with the same items found in a physician’s office - a defibrillator, glucometer to measure blood glucose levels, a lab centrifuge, an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine, blood pressure machines and scales. The units go out five days a week, Monday through Friday, to scheduled locations and on the weekends for special events.

The program was started in 1991 by the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincents as a way to administer health care to the uninsured and needy citizens in surrounding communities. It provides everything from physical exams, hearing and vision tests, to dispensing medications for patients. It is also a ministry, providing more than medical care.

“It’s a very comprehensive service, we treat the whole person - not just the sick individual,” Claudia said. “If there is a spiritual need, we try to provide for that.” Claudia, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Jacksonville, has sometimes prayed with her patients.
And sometimes she has prayed for them.

One experience in her first year with the program sticks in her mind. Claudia remembers treating a Mexican family who had recently immigrated to the United States and were living with relatives in Crescent City. There were 10 children, ranging in age from two to 16-years-old, and all were severely malnourished.

“We examined the older children and noticed little black specs in their mouths, but when we examined the younger children, the spots were noticeably absent,” Claudia said.

The oldest child finally confessed that the older children had been eating dirt to fill up their bellies so the younger children could eat what little food the family had. It was a practice they began in Mexico and continued in the U.S.

The staff was able to get the family much needed medical attention, food and even helped find them better paying jobs. The mother of the family had gone out the day before their initial appointment with the mobile unit and earned just $5 for an entire day’s work.

Recalling the incident, Claudia said she was both shocked and saddened. “It’s hard to believe that nowadays you see things like that still happening,” she said. “I just thank God that I’m able to help.”

The mobile units are also treating an increasing number of working class patients unable to afford health insurance. One patient, Luz Cruz, is a Jacksonville resident who immigrated to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago.

She is employed but is unable to pay for health care. A doctor referred her to the program after her eye exam came back abnormal. Claudia and her staff were able to get Luz an MRI and surgery at the hospital to remove a tumor on her pituitary gland.

“Had she not had treatment, she probably would have gone blind or eventually would have had other physical problems,” Claudia said.

With the volume of patients being cared for by the program increasing each year, Claudia said she is guided by her faith. “I think it’s what keeps me going, being the hands, the mouth and eyes of Jesus,” she said. Her daily prayer is for the Lord to grant her compassion for those who seek her help.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m actually earning a piece of Heaven and I’m getting paid for it.”
For more information on the Mobile Health Outreach Ministry, call (904) 308-7911.