The staff at UnityPoint Health — Pekin will head to Puerto Rico this fall to help those stricken by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

This is the sixth year for the UnityPoint Health Medical Mission Trip. The mission team of 31 doctors, nurses and support staff will be in Puerto Rico from Oct. 4-13. The staff holds fundraisers each year to fund the trip. UnityPoint will supply the medications needed for the trip, said hospital Emergency Room and Urgent Care Nurse Manager Cindy Justus.

“The health issues and concerns down there — they still don’t have their power all restored, so there’s a lot of contaminated water that’s causing a lot of illness,” said Justus. “Water’s always a big thing, that’s why a lot of these countries have a lot of problems, because they don’t have clean drinking water because they are so far behind the eight-ball.

“Malaria is always an issue in these countries, malnutrition and respiratory problems and skin diseases. Things like that are because of the environment they’re suffering through right now.”

Dash at Dusk is one of the main fundraisers for the event. Dash at Dusk will be held starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13, on the 13th Street side of the hospital complex. The kids run will be at 6:30 p.m. and the 5K walk run will be at 7 p.m. After the races, there will be an after party from 7:30 to 9 p.m. There is a kids play area where children can participate in games. The cost for adult runners is $30 now and $35 after July 6, and for kids $15 now and $20 after July 6. For more information or to register, go to www.dashatdusk.com.

Other fundraisers are held throughout the year. UnityPoint also does an annual campaign drive that gives employees the option to support the mission trip, the United Way of Pekin, a staff member in need or other charitable ideas.

Past mission trips have included Nicaragua, Guatemala, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Liberia. The destinations are chosen by team members and typically is a country with ties to a team member of the hospital. For instance, the team went to Nicaragua because one of the emergency room doctors was from there.

“Puerto Rico — we decided on that destination while we were in Liberia because of the devastation that that country had recently received and because they are a part of the U.S. and we wanted to serve our country,” said Justus. “We will be offering free-standing medical clinics, basic medical care for five full days while in the country, so we will be prepared to serve about 2,000 patients.” 

The group is going with Caribbean Lifetime Missions, the same organization it used on the mission to Guatemala. CLM sends somebody to the country and does preliminary research, finds out housing, finds a site to set up the clinic and looks for different communities that have a need. Justus leads the medical mission committee. The medical mission trips average about nine days. The busiest clinic for the mission team to date served 2,700 individuals, according to the UnityPoint Health Website.

“UnityPoint Health is full of genuinely compassionate physicians, nurses, care teams and team members,” said UnityPoint Health Regional CEO Debbie Simon. “They are relentless in making sure everyone knows how much they matter to this world.

“I’m honored to see how every year they take this idea and spread joy around the world. Our medical mission volunteers recognize health care is a crucial necessity everyone deserves access to. Our volunteers typically travel overseas to offer medical care to developing countries, but this year, their trip will stay within the U.S. to serve Puerto Rico. The island continues to endure severe living conditions including limited access to power and water. This affects the use and storage of medical supplies and health care facilities. Our volunteers’ mobile clinic will provide medical aid to a community in great need. I’m proud to support this incredible humanitarian initiative that was a Pekin Hospital tradition and combines now with other UnityPoint Health international mission efforts.”

Justus said the medical team is always touched by the suffering in the countries they visit. At least half of the trip members have experience on other trips.

“We want everyone to have a chance to go, but you really can’t take all brand new people into this kind of environment,” she said. “You have to have people who know what they’re doing to be able to only be there for a week and run five clinics like that.

“It’s very sobering. Every mission, I can tell you there are a lot of tears, but there’s a lot of laughter, a lot of bonding, which is the biggest reason that I do it for the hospital. It creates a bond among the co-workers that is life-long. They will be friends and treat each other as family for the rest of their lives. In one week’s time you can achieve that, what might take years to develop that level of a friendship.”