Eight years ago, Irene Peña proudly became the first bilingual nurse for the Bon Secours Community Wellness Outreach program in Greenville, SC.
“I truly feel as if I found my calling,” says Irene. “I love having the opportunity to look into the patient’s needs holistically. This means not just help them with their flu shot or diabetes treatment but listening to them and addressing any other needs is so important. This job allowed me to do that.”
Our Community Wellness Outreach program was created to provide community-based, client-centered health care to people in poverty. For Irene, a registered nurse of 20 years, it was a great way to extend her knowledge and compassion beyond the walls of a hospital.
“If we are out there establishing a relationship with the community, gaining their trust, bringing our eyes, ears and mouths to look into what their problems are and being a voice for their needs, we can help them find resources in the community that they may not have otherwise had access to,” Irene shares. “I’m always hopeful that intervention will help them avoid becoming an ER patient or becoming hospitalized.”
Irene spends her days in the communities she serves, meeting the people where they live, work and relax. They may not get the care they need otherwise due to financial struggles, a lack of health insurance or language barriers. Irene says many in Greenville’s Hispanic population are also scared to ask for assistance due to immigration issues.
“This program puts us in an amazing position to lend a hand and make the transition a little smoother for these individuals and families,” Irene says. “If they come here that way, without proper documentation, they face so many issues that prevent them from getting health care or a lot of the social services that would otherwise be available to them.”
Often, Irene and her team take the care to those who can’t seek it out themselves. For example, hosting flu vaccine clinics, preventative health screenings and more. Amidst COVID-19, they are also working virtually to connect people who need help paying medical bills or getting access to food, medication and transportation to helpful resources.
More than anything, Irene says, she wants to restore dignity to the process of poverty aid in our community.
“Recently at these flu clinics we held, we had this big group of immigrants from Latin America who organized themselves and came in shifts to help us with traffic control. They helped with guiding people through, handing in consents and other tasks,” Irene recalls. “It was amazing. I almost cried because some of them were my patients back when I started. When I met them, they were so afraid to talk and wouldn’t even share their real name. So, to see them grow in their confidence to the point that they’re now empowered and giving back to their community – it’s a trickle-down effect. We join forces, build that trust and just look at where we are now!”
Irene urges anyone who needs help from the Bon Secours Wellness Outreach program to call 864-241-5125. Callers can choose 1 for English or 2 for Spanish, then leave their name and number to get a return call from the team.
“We have a team of bilingual social workers and nurses working full time and we will get to you promptly.”
Learn more about our Community Wellness Outreach program in Greenville, SC.