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The Saint Peter’s University Hospital Guatemala Health Project

Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Saint Peter’s University Hospital Guatemala Health Project was conceived and developed as a result of the partnership between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, Guatemala, in the Global Solidarity Program of the Catholic Relief Services. After his 2004 visit to Guatemala, the Most Reverend Paul Gregory Bootkoski, Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, met with Saint Peter’s University Hospital leadership to develop healthcare initiatives aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal/child mortality in Santa Rosa County, Guatemala. Saint Peter’s was a natural choice with its unique history in caring for women and children. It was the first Regional Perinatal Center in New Jersey, is experienced treating high-risk pregnancy, and is a state-designated children’s hospital offering specialty services for newborns to young adults.

Guatemala Health Project

In June of 2014 Saint Peter’s will mark the 10-year anniversary of establishing the health project in Chiquimulilla in Santa Rosa County, located approximately 18.6 miles from Guatemala City. The coastal area next to Chiquimulilla has an overwhelming lack of access to basic health care and a high infant and maternal morbidity/mortality rates. The closest area hospital is approximately one-and-a-half to two hours away depending on the mode of transportation. A few “health posts” staffed with lay caregivers were the only healthcare facilities available locally when Saint Peter’s arrived. The level of knowledge, skills and the abilities of the lay caregivers at the time were associated with common area practice and traditional cultural methods of care. In 2007, Saint Peter’s began a rigorous training program for birth attendants.

Five health clinics were then established across Santa Rosa County to help serve the need for comprehensive health care in the county with a primary focus in obstetrics. Healthcare providers and residents learned to recognize the need for appropriate health care during the various stages of pregnancy and the risk factors associated with pregnancy.

Each clinic is staffed by a mobile healthcare team consisting of a physician and nursing staff that is available to diagnose and treat routine health issues on a rotating basis each day of the week. All clinical staff is offered the appropriate education and training needed to identify and treat pregnant women who receive three prenatal and three post-natal visits. During the course of pregnancy patients receive detailed information about risk factors, the schedule for appropriate care, and dietary and nutritional information. With this model in place, the rate of infant and maternal mortality/morbidity has dramatically reduced. In 2011 the local health ministry reported zero maternal deaths.

Saint Peter’s is committed to establishing a comprehensive health system for women in the Santa Rosa coastal region and continues to ensure that local medical volunteers, both physicians and nurses, maintain a high standard of care which will ultimately be self-sustaining in Guatemala. The Saint Peter’s Relief Team, through the relationship with the Diocese of Santa Rosa, is working with local health officials to measure and monitor the standards of care on an ongoing basis.

The overall program requires the cooperation and assistance from the local Santa Rosa County government and the Ministry of Health in Guatemala. The medical expertise and knowledge base provided by Saint Peter’s, in conjunction with the Guatemalan medical and political leadership, is helping to establish a model to be replicated in other counties throughout the country.

Saint Peter’s had successfully obtained a three-year commitment from an agency known as RTI (Research Triangle Institute) and part of a larger USAID grant. The USAID grant targeted the reduction of maternal/neonatal morbidity and mortality in a defined region in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. The principal investigator and associate principal investigator are Bipin Patel, M.D., chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s, and David Jaipersaud, M.P.A., administrative director of Pediatrics at Saint Peter’s, respectively. The grant was used to help improve the skill level of health providers in the communities served and particularly targeted the training of comadronas, as birth attendants are called, and community health workers, in addition to the local physicians, residents in training and nurses.

To learn more about the Guatemala Health Project, call 732-745-8600 x6953.