By RANDY EDWARDS
When her toddler son was diagnosed with Kawasaki syndrome, a serious but treatable condition that causes inflammation in the arterial walls, Luz María Ruiz Aguilar sought help from a 24-hour medical clinic in a struggling neighborhood in Monterrey, Mexico.
Ruben underwent surgery at CHRISTUS Muguerza Alta Especialidad Hospital in Monterrey after being diagnosed at a CHRISTUS Muguerza clinic in Tampamolón in the rain forest, a facility that is now run by the local government exclusively.
"I'm a single mom, I live with my mother and my son," the grateful mother said in a thank-you written after her son was out of danger. "Although I have insurance from the government, I did not receive enough support from it to treat my son. The attention he received in the 'Muguercita' was really good."
Muguercita — Little Muguerza — is a fond nickname that many patients have for the Fundación Adelaida Lafón, a group of clinics that are operated by CHRISTUS Muguerza, the health system created by a union of Irving, Texas-based CHRISTUS Health and Mexico's Grupo Muguerza. Gathering place
Launched in 2001, the Lafón clinics brought quality health care to impoverished urban areas of Mexico, explained Victor Santillán, philanthropy and corporate manager for the CHRISTUS Muguerza system.
Along with bringing access to reliable, high-quality health care, the clinics have in many cases become community and social service centers, sometimes with the support of local government. Senior citizens play dominos and the young come for games and crafts and English lessons. While they are there, they learn about diabetes, infant care, nutrition and other health issues.
The clinics serve physical, mental and spiritual needs. Along with medical professionals, patients can consult with spiritual and psychological counselors.
Medically, patients can find at the clinics everything to be expected from modern health centers, including emergency care, physical therapy, laboratory and X-ray services, as well as dental and gynecological care. Telemedicine connects the patients to larger hospitals for more advanced diagnoses, and on-site pharmacies allow treatment to begin immediately. Mission allignment
The clinics take their name from Adelaida Lafón, the wife of José A. Muguerza, the health system's founder and an advocate for health care for the poor. But the clinics also embody the long history of the Sisters of Charity, the sponsoring congregation for CHRISTUS. Sisters from this congregation have been working in Mexico since 1885.
"We have a mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ," Santillán said. "We are called to act on behalf of the most vulnerable and those whose conditions place them at the margins of society."
Currently, CHRISTUS Muguerza operates four community clinics in Northern Mexico, including two in Chihuahua and one each in Saltillo and Monterrey. New frontiers
In some cases the clinics operate in places where medical care historically has been episodic at best, said Gene Woods, CHRISTUS executive vice president and chief operating officer.
"We provide 24/7 access to care in areas where access and consistency have been an issue in the past," Woods said. "In addition we have mobile clinics which also go into the poorest of the poor neighborhoods.
"If you haven't been there it is hard to have an appreciation for the level of sophisticated care that we are able to provide," he said. "I have walked the hospital halls but also the outreach clinics that we have. You can see that the patients are very appreciative for what we have been able to provide." Local government relations
The clinics draw half their support from fundraising, including support from the CHRISTUS Foundation for HealthCare and extensive fundraising in Mexico. The services are not free, Santillán said. An exam, for example, costs $3.50.
There have been some setbacks and some challenges. Two of the original Lafón clinics served the indigenous communities in the Mexican rain forest through local government partnership. However, Santillán said, last year the local governments in Tampamolón and La Huasteca Potosina took those clinics over, subsequently cutting back on clinical services, staff and hours of operation.
Working in remote areas leads to difficulties with roads and other infrastructure, and "We've had to be a little more innovative with how we've developed relationships with governments," Woods added. "But we have a very seasoned team there, and they have established good relationships with local officials."
And the support of the communities, Santillán said, is obvious.
The appreciation shows up in one unofficial but telling way: amid a heavily tagged neighborhood, an unblemished building. Where some of the clinics are located, "graffiti is everywhere," Santillán said, "but they don't touch our clinics because they have respect for us and value the assistance they receive there."
CHRISTUS' link to the Catholic Church helps foster support among the people in Mexico and throughout Latin America, Woods said.
"There is something that resonates very fundamentally with our being a faith-based organization, especially in Mexico, where there is a large Catholic presence," he said. "They really connect to the mission, to our values. It's in our DNA to serve and they get that there, and they appreciate it."
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