Powering Hope: PLF Leaders Visit Naranjito

PLF founders John and Frances Padilla visit the community health clinic of Salud Integral en la Montaña, the selected clinic to receive the solar pack donated by the Progreso Latino Fund as part of FCPR's Gift of Light Campaign.

Written By: John and Frances Padilla

In 2018, the Progreso Latino Fund (PLF) Steering Committee voted to join an island-wide campaign by the Puerto Rico Community Foundation to provide back-up solar power to 100 of the island's hospitals and health clinics. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many hospitals and clinics were closed due to lack of power, and many lost large amounts of medications that needed refrigeration. The solar packs, which generate 5 kilovolts and can store another 20 kilovolts in back-up batteries, are intended to prevent that from happening again because they will power the emergency rooms. Each solar pack costs about $30,000 (installed).

Returning to Puerto Rico

The day of May 23, 2019, was one of those days that lifts the spirits and reminds us of the many unsung heroes working in their communities to create better lives for themselves and their neighbors. We enjoyed an opportunity to spend the day with Mary Ann Gabino, Sr. Vice President, and Javier Colton, Program Manager, from the Fundacion Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (FCPR), as we visited two of their grantees in central Puerto Rico. We were excited about what we would be doing that day – especially because Mary Ann was taking us to see the solar unit the Progreso Latino Fund donated to a health clinic.

The day started early as Mary Ann picked us up and we headed to Aibonito, a small mountain town where we visited Centro de Adiestramiento para Personas con Impedimentos (CAPI), an organization serving young persons with disabilities. CAPI is the only organization of its kind in the area, serving 600 youth annually from the interior of the island, where such services are rarely available. We were greeted by Ana Colon, CAPI's Executive Director, who guided us through the facilities and explained how their lettuce-growing hydroponic farm operates. CAPI uses its "farm" to teach employment skills so that its participants are mainstreamed into the workforce. With an 85% job placement rate, CAPI's services run the continuum from diagnostics and academic assessment through job training, placement and retention support.

After María, FCPR awarded a grant to CAPI so it could install a small solar array to power the pumps necessary to provide water for the hydroponic farm. The farm is a social enterprise generating $200k annually for CAPI, so keeping it operational is significant. The solar pack has kept the farm running smoothly through the power interruptions that are so endemic in the aftermath of Maria. As you can see, CAPI participants work the entire process from cultivating the seedlings, to "harvesting" the lettuce from the tubes it grows in.

Not surprisingly, CAPI cannot keep up with the demand for its organic lettuce! CAPI produces a harvest every 45 days or seven annually and sells it all locally – starting with the families of the students in its programs – then to restaurants and stores. Walmart purchases 20 cases of lettuce per harvest but has told CAPI it would purchase its entire harvest if they let them! Ms. Colon told us they are waiting for a vendor to become available so they can build two new "hoop houses" where the lettuce is grown. She also told us they had just started growing passion fruit ("parcha") hydroponically and were very excited about the prospects. It was a wonderful visit to a small organization doing really big things.

Off to Naranjito

From Aibonito, we got back in the car to cross the central mountains and headed to Naranjito, where we visited the community health clinic of Salud Integral en la Montaña (SIM). FCPR selected the clinic to receive the solar pack donated by the Progreso Latino Fund as part of FCPR's Gift of Light Campaign.

When entering the clinic, we were struck by how neat and orderly everything was. Clients came in, registered at the desk, and sat to be called for their appointments. In Puerto Rico, we've heard many horror stories about people going to a doctor's office and literally waiting most of the day to see a Doctor even though they had an appointment! At SIM there was no such thing – though they are well aware of this practice at other medical facilities. We were escorted on our tour of the clinic by Ms. Patricia Villanueva Hernandez, Director of Ancillary Services, and Ms. Emma Morales Fuentes, Director of Nursing. The Naranjito clinic – the flagship center for Salud Integral en la Montana (SIM), which translates to 'integrated health in the mountains', is a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) with a staff of 185 that serves approximately 25,000 people from the surrounding towns. SIM runs seven clinics in the interior region of Puerto Rico, and provides an array of services ranging from primary care to specialists in cardiology, oncology, endocrinology, internal medicine, geriatrics, etc. You couldn't get far during the tour without stopping to speak with someone about the clinic. Ms. Morales, the Director of Nursing, explained how it was a joy to see the generational mix between patients and staff, with many of the patients being multi-generational users of the clinic. There were opportunities to talk with individual doctors about their current responsibilities and future plans; we found it interesting that many of the doctors – who also do private practice in other hospitals – found SIM to be their favorite place to work. We heard some common themes they spoke of like a strong sense of camaraderie among the staff, a compassionate organizational culture, and the overall differences in how people from the "campos" (countryside) treat each other compared to city dwellers!

An Impressive Organization

The clinic is an impressive operation with a very strong commitment to access: they have extensive mobile service capacity and will come to the towns in mobile vehicles to reach those clients who cannot make it to them! SIM has been serving the residents of central Puerto Rico for 44 years. We were so impressed by the staff's intimate knowledge of the clinic – Ms. Villanueva knew everyone and everything – and as a 43 year veteran of the Clinic, Ms. Morales is responsible for all nursing activity in the facility. The Clinic is in the process of obtaining certification as a Primary Care Medical Home, a Federal designation that recognizes outstanding work in care coordination and access to care.

The solar pack PLF contributed to the clinic powers the emergency room and five refrigerators throughout the facility where drugs such as vaccinations, insulin and others are stored. Like good tourists, we had to take a picture with the backup batteries and transfer station that kicks in with a loss of power. The solar panels are located on the roof a couple of floors up. And again . . . like the good tourists we were – we took a group photo with the solar panels!

We ended the day back in San Juan with non-stop conversation about our day and the resiliency of our people! Despite the hardship Puerto Rico and its residents have endured, the people we met were very upbeat and positive about life on the island post-Maria. Our sense is that for most, Maria is in the past and what they want most is for the government to take steps to ensure such a calamity never happens again.

We hope this update has been helpful in connecting you to PLF's work. To everyone who contributed to this effort, rest assured your contribution is being put to the best uses possible! – and we bring you greetings and gratitude from the staff at SIM.