When Park Ridge Hospital nurse Teresa Onofrio introduced herself to a small class of Spanish-speaking expecting mothers on Feb. 24, her American accent blended with a dash of Puerto Rico, where she lived for many years: “Soy enfermera en el hospital de Park Ridge.” Continuing on in Spanish, she told the women — who were there to learn about childbirth and breast-feeding — “If you have trouble understanding me or I speak poorly, please correct me.”
Though Onofrio’s Spanish was near perfect, the assurance was a way to make the women and their husbands feel a little more at ease discussing subjects that, traditionally, they learn from their mothers and grandmothers. But many of the Latina women Onofrio teaches are far from home and family and, as she explained before the class began, they’re “often very young and have little experience regarding labor. This class provides support and resources that otherwise might not be available to them.”
I’d come to the Park Ridge workshop on assignment from Mountain Xpress, hoping to learn more about what health services are available to Western North Carolina’s growing Hispanic population. The Feb. 24 class is one of many held at the Fletcher-based hospital’s women’s services center.
Park Ridge focuses primarily on health maintenance, prevention and healing, and its staff takes that mission to heart, Communications Manager Jennifer Perez explained before I met Onofrio. Formerly known as Blue Ridge Health, Park Ridge is one of almost 40 hospitals in the Adventist Health System; it serves many area residents who lack health insurance or otherwise have difficulty getting care.
Many of Onofrio’s clients, for instance, are unfamiliar with the health-care system and aren’t comfortable seeking outside help or resources. Workshops like this one allow them to come forward and feel included in the local community, Onofrio explained.
That’s the kind of outreach service Onofrio strives to provide. She began her medical career as a paramedic and emergency responder but switched to nursing as a way to have more personal contact and build relationships with her patients. In WNC, Onofrio worked first at Mission Hospitals before coming to Park Ridge. Combining her experience as a delivery nurse, translator and educator, Onofrio serves as a doula, providing support to women in labor.
She’s also skilled at drawing anyone into the subject at hand, as I soon learned: When she instructed class participants to turn to their neighbor, introduce themself and get to know each other, I busied myself taking notes. Then, feeling a nudge, I looked up to see Onofrio standing there.
“You have to do it too,” she informed me. “Get a partner and start the activity!” I was reluctant, but Onofrio insisted. Even in a brief exchange, I found, we can all find common ground. Some of the women were close to my age; one was from El Salvador (my mother is from Bolivia).
Onofrio drew the men into the discussion too. As she talked about what epidural analgesia does and how beneficial breast-feeding is to an infant’s health, one of the husbands joked, “And the kids [on breast milk] are prettier too!”
Without missing a beat, Onofrio asked the others, “What do you think about that?”
“Yeah, that’s true!” came the replies.
The exchange helped Onofrio drive home key points she’s passionate about, such as the importance of providing infants with nutrients from breast milk, not cow’s milk. Breast-feeding can eliminate many health problems that occur during infancy, Onofrio told her class. “Breast-feeding can help eradicate allergies and build a healthier immune system, which in turn allows the child to live a healthier life.”
She asked the women if they had breast-fed any of their children. Yes, many replied, saying those children were healthier and had stronger bones.
And maybe they were better looking too.
For more information visit http://www.parkridgehealth.org. On Saturday, March 12, Park Ridge is sponsoring a free Birth & Breast-feeding Expo at the Asheville Mall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the website (birthnetwork.org) and click on “events.”
— Editorial intern Christina McIntyre Ayala can be reached at email@example.com.