Centro de Obras Sociales – The Hub of Activity

Chimbote, Peru

Joyce Ann Hertzig, OP (Grand Rapids)

ABOVE: Lillian Bockheim, OP, LPN, Director of Outpatient Clinic and Margaret Mary Birchmeier, OP, RN, Director of the Maternity Hospital, visit in the Maternity Clinic.
ABOVE: Lillian Bockheim, OP, LPN, Director of Outpatient Clinic and Margaret Mary Birchmeier, OP, RN, Director of the Maternity Hospital, visit in the Maternity Clinic.

CHIMBOTE, PERU—The workday at Centro de Obras Sociales, the Center for Social Works, Chimbote, starts at 7:00 am and ends at 8:00 pm or later Knowing how difficult it is for patients to travel, a staff person cannot say, “come back the next day” unless absolutely necessary. . No one is turned away if the service needed is provided by the center.

The Maternity Clinic (Materindad) meets with 250 mothers and children. The Postamedica, the outpatient service, treats about 150 persons each day. This does not include the people who come for classes, such as, prenatal stimulation, La Maz, the nutrition program, TB program, laboratory work or even maternal deliveries.

Fr. Jules Roos co-founder of the hospital with two young patients and Sr. Margaret Mary.
Fr. Jules Roos co-founder of the hospital with two young patients and Sr. Margaret Mary.

Margaret Mary Birchmeier, OP, RN (Grand Rapids) a certified midwife is the Director of the maternity hospital and says that the Center needs to update the present facilities. This includes extending the maternity unit and renovating the outpatient area. The average monthly birthrate is almost 200. According to Margaret Mary, the dreams for the future are not so much for more space, but a dream to improve the quality of care.
Besides Sr. Margaret Mary, medical services are directed by Lillian Bockheim, OP, (Grand Rapids) a licensed practical nurse and director of the out-patient clinic. Dr. Cesar Cáseres, a laboratory pathologist is director of the clinical laboratory; Teresa Salinas, also professional midwife is personnel director of the Center and Father Jules Roos, administrator.

LEFT: Sr. Lillian plays with one of the children while an aide watches.
LEFT: Sr. Lillian plays with one of the children while an aide watches.

The first day I arrived in Chimbote, there were 14 births. Sister Margaret Mary explained that the early days deliveries took place at in the mother’s home. Deliveries were simple and as clean as could be — given that the house typically had a dirt floor. In the early 1960s, Maternidad consisted of 13 beds and a delivery room. With the establishment of the Center, this allowed the sister midwives to serve more families than was possible with home deliveries. Today the Maternidad has 50 beds and two delivery rooms. Mothers and babies stay for two days, receive instructions on postnatal care and are followed up with visits for one year. The baby is followed until age five. Over the years, the Center has added a laboratory, an ultrasound machine, “at risk” baby incubators and hydration units. The out-patient clinic utilizes the services of the Center’s laboratory and pharmacy, which serves about 200 people a day.

Recently, more orphans are coming tothe Center, sometimes babies left at the doorstep, or their parents have been lost in recent violence in the city. Other babies come with birth defects or blindness. No one is left untreated. Through the loving care and program of the physical therapists, babies who were not expected to have made progress are doing well.

Infant care at the hospital
Infant care at the hospital

The number of people in line early each morning gives witness to the credibility and success of the Center. The clients who receive a home visit from the Center staff welcome them with open arms and hugs, neighbors ask questions and mothers make the effort come to the center on the same day as the visit. The most important concern is for the needs of the patients, and money comes second. If someone cannot pay the normal rate, a sliding scale helps them. Patients who are recommended from another hospital pay whatever is the standard rate at the hospital for Chimbote. The lab does work for other medical facilities in the area and thus these payments, along with the ultrasound service, provide funds for care of the poor.

The Center found its beginnings 40 years ago. Fathers Ray Moore and Jules Roos, St. James Society Fathers, were in Chimbote. They found that mothers were bringing babies to them to be baptized but they were already dead. There was an unacceptably high rate of infant mortality. Grand Rapids Dominican Prioress, Mother Mary Victor Flannery, was asked to send Sister nurse/midwives to alleviate the suffering and thus, the medical mission in Chimbote was founded. When the sisters came, they faced a simple open space and began from there. In 1971, a clinical laboratory was constructed to provide physicians with more adequate diagnosis and this facilitates better, more specific treatment. This service has been made available to other health facilities in the area requiring such service.

The Center works in collaboration with the Diocese of Pittsburgh. An annual benefit dinner held by the Chimbote Foundation provides resources for the work in Chimbote. Others also contribute. College and university medical students and professors provide medical students/nurses with field experience working with the Center.

The people of Chimbote, Peru, know the joy and hope of God through a hand offered in healing, a clean and caring place to recover from illness. A hug on the street, a greeting from a taxi, a hand extended in support all give witness to the commitment of Dominicans to preach a Word of hope and healing.

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