In 1998, Charlene Wenger, a retired U.S. Army Nurse Practitioner, was living in Los Barriles, Baja California Sur. She had contracted a local thirty-four year old man to paint her house. While going to his shop for paint, he suffered a stroke and died. The young man had high blood pressure but had not been diagnosed or treated. “There was nothing they could do. The local clinic didn’t even have a tank of oxygen. All the doctor had was a stethoscope and declared him dead before CPR could even be started. That is the way it was here and I vowed to change it," Charlene remembers.
On her trips to and from the United States, Charlene would bring supplies for the small medical clinics in the area. In 2000, she took a volunteer position at one of the clinics in Los Barriles. Ms. Wenger formed the East Cape Community Urgent Care Clinic A.C. in 2002, which is a Mexican non-profit organization to serve the needs of the local population that could not afford basic health care. She had a dream of opening a fully- functioning clinic one day. Until her dream could become a reality, Charlene provided much needed medical assistance to the local Mexican population from the donations (money and supplies) she could garner.
Through the ensuing years many events occurred to strengthen Charlene’s resolve to make her dream become real. One particular incident stands out in her mind. A vehicle accident occured in 2004: a car carrying four boys went down an embankment and crashed. The driver was trapped, one boy was ejected and died at the scene, and the other two boys were severely injured. The old ambulance that had been parked at the Los Barriles Police Station had no battery, two flat tires and was unable to respond. An ambulance, called from a neighboring community was also not operational. Before the ambulance from Santiago arrived, the driver of the car died in the long interlude awaiting help. On the way to the hospital, the ambulance was involved in an accident. All occupants were ejected; one of the two remaining boys died, the doctor, the police officer who was driving and the other child incurred serious injuries. It was easy to imagine the lives that could have been saved had urgent medical care and operational equipment been available.
Something had to be done. The closest hospital to Los Barriles was, and still is, over an hour away. The local clinic did not have the capability of treating a serious injury or illness and did not have a full-time doctor. The town did not have the resources to stabilize a patient in a cardiac emergency. Laboratory and X-rays were not available.
Charlene decided to contact hospitals in the Southern Baja to see if they would be interested in opening a satellite clinic in Los Barriles. After interviewing five hospitals, only AmeriMed in Cabo San Lucas met Charlene’s criteria. She felt the community needed a facility that included a full-time physician and diagnostic capabilities.
In 2005, AmeriMed brought in equipment and combined with the supplies Ms. Wenger had collected; they hired a doctor and rented a building. AmeriMed Clinic, Los Barriles was open and ready for business. The clinic has a physician, registered nurse, laboratory and X-ray services, and a receptionist.
Charlene was able to have an ambulance donated from the United States. She was now able to provide reliable emergency transport to the hospital.
Realizing that the town needed quality dental care, she rented space, hired a dentist, located equipment, and opened the East Cape Dental Clinic. Proceeds from the Dental Clinic support our Children's Dental Program which provides free dental care to all children, up to the age of 14.
It started with a dream, and today the East Cape community has a full range of health services. So in 2010, Charlene changed the name of the non-profit organization from East Cape Community Urgent Care Clinic to East Cape Health Center to more accurately describe the services now available to the community.