One of our faculty, Dr. Patrick Ercole, was featured in the article “A Few Good Men at the College” in the summer 2011 issue of our Nursing Excellence magazine. Find out what’s been keeping him awake since he was 16 years old.
Dr. Patrick Ercole was only 15 years old when Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in October 1998. It was the worst natural disaster to hit the region in 25 years, and Honduras suffered the brunt of it.
Eight months later, Dr. Ercole, a native of Baltimore, Md., joined a relief mission organized through his church to help rebuild infrastructure in the remote municipality of Atíma, Honduras. Atíma and its surrounding villages are among the poorest areas in the country and suffered extensive damage from the hurricane. Access to health care services is severely limited due to its remote location – it’s a bumpy six-hour bus ride from San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in the region.
Participating in the relief mission made a lasting impression on Dr. Ercole, one that has followed him through life as he attended college at the University of Pennsylvania, and then graduate school at Saint Louis University, to pursue a career in public health. Every year, he returned to Atíma as part of an annual medical brigade that his church eventually founded. The medical brigade provides volunteer medical services to an average of 2,500 to 2,800 patients within five days.
Each trip fueled Dr. Ercole’s desire to make a more permanent impact in Atíma. In 2010, he co-founded the Organization for Community Health Outreach (OCHO), with the goal to supply the area with regular access to medical care and public health resources. Since establishing OCHO, he has secured a land donation, as well as architecture plans for a health center in Atíma.
Now as assistant professor and biostatistician for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, Dr. Ercole is leading the charge to get the College involved. In June 2011, he returned to Atíma with Dr. Donna Taliaferro, associate dean for research, and Dr. Holly Diesel, associate professor, to volunteer with the medical brigade, and to evaluate possible research and clinical outreach partnerships with a nursing school in the region’s capital city of Santa Barbara.
What has sustained Dr. Ercole’s interest in Atíma? It is the desire to invest in the success of a community that has touched him for over a decade. “Our brigade has developed a relationship with the locals, they remember us. They find hope in us returning,” he says.
For Dr. Ercole, an experience borne at a young age has become his lifelong passion. “Since I was 16 I’ve always wondered how I could give back to this community,” he says. “It’s my calling. It’s the stuff that I go to bed thinking about.”