Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, Inc.
Volunteers for a cause
(Part 2 of "The doctor is IN"
By Heidi M. Pascual
     The people behind the Free Medical Clinic are founders and/or members of the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, Inc. The core group that started as "Milwaukee Filipino Center" in 1995 simply wanted to have a facility to hold several Filipino organizations' meetings and events. Through the years, its membership grew and because many came from the medical profession, a Free Medical Clinic was born, in direct response to the organization's mission:
     
"As citizens of this community, we have partaken of its material and spiritual wealth. Through its benevolence, we have shared with its greatness and now enjoy a way of life that allows us to help alleviate the suffering of this largely impoverished and troubled world. Therefore, we, Filipino Americans and our friends of this community, have established the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation Inc. Through this foundation, which aims to construct a building to house some activities of the community, we hope to bring to the American consciousness the richness of our background, as well as the significance of our contributions to this country. In addition, we also aim to provide services of a civic nature which would, otherwise, be difficult, or too costly, for some people to obtain. And, above all, it is our fervent hope that through this foundation we will help raise generations of citizens who will continue to contribute to the greatness of America and help mold its moral conscience."
Dr. Elieser Suson
     
One of the original founders of PCCCF, Dr. Elieser Suson is a household name in the Milwaukee Filipino community. He is the chairman of the PCCCF Board of Trustees. Originally from Cebu, an island in the Visayas (Philippines), Dr. Suson graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP), College of Medicine, and had his initial training in eye, ear, nose and throat in the UP-Philippine General Hospital in 1955-1960. He immigrated to the United States in the early '60s, and passed the American Medical Board exam in opthalmology while doing his residency at the University of Illinois-Eye and Ear Infirmary. He later became the director of the Glaucoma Screening Survey at Marquette School of Medicine in Milwaukee in 1964, a position that eventually evolved into the first director of the Glaucoma Clinic of the Medical College of Wisconsin. His wife, also a medical doctor trained in anaesthesiology, immigrated to the U.S. in 1959. The couple has three children, all of them born in the U.S.; two of them are opthalmologists like their dad, and one is a professional musician/violinist.
      "I share the feeling of many Filipinos who arrived in this area in the mid-'50s and early '60s," Dr. Suson said in an interview with Asian Wisconzine recently. "We feel that the communities in which we have lived have been very good to us and so we'd like to give something back. And I'm fortunate to have participated in the establishment of the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation."
      In his excerpt from "Reminiscences: A Thank You to the United States of America and to the Many Great People Who Have Helped Me Find My Way Here," Dr. Suson wrote the history of the PCCCF, naming the core group who made this community dream a reality and relating the challenges, successes they experienced, and how their activities evolved from merely social to community services.
      "I consider the Free Medical Clinic as the crown jewel of the Filipino community in Wisconsin," Dr. Suson said proudly. "It's under the leadership of Dr. Violeta Singson, its medical director. She has done an excellent job."
      While Dr. Suson thinks that the health care system in the U.S. is expensive, people generally get the best health care. "We have the best medicines here, although I don't know whether or not the people get them," he said. "At first in our discussions about the Free Medical Clinic 1995-2000, we even got comments from some people that our group has no need for it. Some people say they don't have time for it. But of course those people are working with us here now. When we opened the Free Medical Clinic in 2000, Dr. Johnny Singson and I attended a symposium on the subject of insurance at the Medical College. A majority of those who are uninsured or underinsured are between the ages of 17 and 25. These are not old people. There are many in need. As demonstrated by the number of patients that we have, there's a big need for it."
Gerardo Ramos, AIA
     
Gerry Ramos, an architect, is also one of the founders of the Philippine Center. He now serves as the executive director of PCCCF and a member of its Board of Trustees. /Originally from Manila, Gerry had a successful architecture practice in the Philippines before he immigrated to the U.S. in 1984. He worked in Chicago and then moved to Milwaukee. His wife, Jocelyn or "Jojo," has also been actively involved in the PCCCF. According to Dr. Suson, Jojo has always contributed ideas and actions with concrete results, such as: ideas for the mission statement of the PCCCF, getting space for use of the Center, and suggesting that the Free Medical Center be led by Dr. Violeta Singson. The couple has four children.
      "We're currently working hard to have our own Philippine Center so we can house our programs like the Free Medical Clinic," Gerry said. "We're planning on having senior programs and other programs that will cater to the community. As our mission statement says, we want to give back to the community and to improve the image of Filipinos here."
      Aside from his work at PCCCF, Gerry volunteers at the Free Medical Clinic as well. When Asian Wisconzine visited the Clinic, Gerry was in the registration area, helping Dr. Singson with paper work. "Every time there's something to do, we're here (with wife Jojo)," he said. "If they wanted to make flyers, letters, and all those, we're here to help. That's giving back."
      How far have Gerry and his officers gone with this project?/"It's hush-hush right now," he said. "The (Milwaukee) mayor offered one of their buildings for us to use. We're coming up with a proposal to buy the building. But even if we don't get that, we have the option of building a center in one of their parks, although it's easier and cheaper for us to buy an existing building."
Dr. Ray Ballecer
     
Dr. Ray Ballecer is the current president of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA)-Milwaukee. With more than 20 years of professional medical experience, Dr. Ballecer has been practicing internal medicine in Milwaukee and working for Aurora Medical Group. Originally an ophthalmologist in the UP-Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Ballecer switched to internal medicine because it was "so hard to get a residency for foreign medical graduates (in the US)." He immigrated to the US. in 1985 and did his residency in internal medicine at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. In 1990, he moved to Milwaukee. He has three children with wife Emily, a laboratory technologist.
      "Most Filipino doctors in Milwaukee are members of the PMA," Dr. Ballecer said. "Since the inception of the Free Medical Clinic, the volunteers are all from PMA. That has been a tradition, so we always encourage our members to volunteer."
      One hindrance for doctors to volunteer has been the possibility of being sued in case something went wrong with patient treatment, medication, etc. "This year, what has been done was to make sure that all the volunteers would have filled out the application so that the state will approve them and certify them as volunteers," Dr. Ballecer said. "They will be free of any risks of being sued; because that's one of the main concerns of the doctors, whether PMA members or not. Whenever they do volunteer work, they don't want these patients they're trying to help to sue them later on. So we have a list of doctors who are already approved by the state and we are trying to get all the members of PMA, if possible, so that in case they want to volunteer, then they don't have to think of that."
      Aside from the need for more volunteer doctors and of course, more funding, Dr. Ballecer and the PMA are focusing on the quality of service the Free Clinic provides.
      "Through our meetings there have been some concerns about quality of care in the Free Medical Clinic," he confides. "To address these concerns, I created an ad hoc committee which is headed by Dr. Gerry Vinluan to look into how the Free Medical Clinic works, the procedures and what type of patients we need to help. Is this an urgent care setting or is it something like a preventive clinic? So we have set some guidelines, like protocols or processes for different diseases  like hypertension, diabetes, all these, for all volunteer doctors to at least look into it. It's not like we're telling them what to do, but it's just guiding them on the proper care and follow up of patients with these medical conditions. We came up with recommendations to Dr. Violeta Singson who's the medical director of the Free Medical Clinic. So that is in the process, and I think if we can follow that, then we can provide our patients the best medicines or best medical care based on what resources we have."
Part 3 will be our interview with Dr. Johnny Singson and the other "Heroes" and volunteers at the Free Clinic.
Dr. Elieser Suson (left) with PCCCF Executive Director, Architect Gerry Ramos
PMA Pres. Dr. Ray Ballecer (left) and Dr. Suson
     Dr. Violeta Singson, medical director of PCCCF's Free Medical Clinic in Milwaukee, isn't alone in serving the uninsured and underinsured people of all colors in the Milwaukee area. In last month's issue, Asian Wisconzine gave its readers a glimpse into Dr. Singson's background and why she's doing what she does. This installment will focus on some of the people who work side by side with her to fill a great need in the state of Wisconsin: health care for those with limited or no access to it. (Asian Wisconzine was able to interview only a few of the doctors and volunteers in the Clinic one day this past summer. This article doesn't diminish the contributions of those whose names were not mentioned in these interviews. There will be a Part 3 of the series due to space constraints.)
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December 2007 Issue