HOULTON, Maine — The interior of St. Mary’s Church in Houlton was transformed into a community health clinic on Wednesday, April 21, as Boston College nursing students did health screenings there as part of a four-day sweep through Aroostook County.
The Boston College program usually sends a select group of nursing students to a foreign country, such as Jamaica or Chile, to do wellness clinics for the local populations. But with COVID-19 restrictions preventing travel to other countries, the program had to look elsewhere to send their students.
“Someone in our admissions program suggested we reach out to Catholic Charities, and they answered the phone,” said Colleen Simonelli, the associate dean of the undergraduate program at BC. “It really was that serendipitous.”
At the clinic, nursing students helped measure blood sugar and check for diabetes. Other tables at the clinic provided over-the-counter medicine and checked vision. Children’s books were also provided free for parents to give to their children. Local organizations, such as Aroostook County Action Program and Aroostook Recovery Center of Hope, were also present at the clinic.
Two separate clinics were being held at St. Mary’s in Houlton on Wednesday, one for the general populace and another geared toward parents and children. For the latter, the clinic offered resources in breastfeeding and safe sleeping for newborns. Diapers and formula were also provided for free.
“We’re doing anything that the community would generally like,” Simonelli said. “We have nutrition, we have Lyme disease, we have hypertension and diabetes.”
While it isn’t exactly working in a foreign country, the students arriving in Aroostook are experiencing a culture and environment quite different from what they would find in Boston. MacKenzie Farrell, a senior nursing student originally from New Jersey, said she’s enjoyed the experience so far.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Maine, but never had the chance until now,” Farrell said. “It’s a different change of pace, and it’s a different part of the world.”
While visiting Aroostook, the students are staying at the Hampton Inn in Presque Isle. They held clinics in the Holy Rosary Parish Center in Caribou the two days before arriving in Houlton on April 21. They will return to Caribou on April 22 before making a final stop in Madawaska on April 23.