Alejandrina Felipe was only 10 when her father, Antonio, died while visiting in Mexico with his wife and six children. He had worked hard in the fields of California and Oregon for many years, exposed to pesticides with no protection. While in Mexico, Antonio quickly got quite sick, but was unable to receive adequate medical care in time. A sophisticated hospital was more than six hours away in Oaxaca City. The family would later learn Antonio had an end-stage blood cancer, a lymphoma. Alejandrina’s beloved father died on in May of 1993.
Alejandrina’s mother, Paula Asuncion, had three boys and three girls to raise, all under 14. They returned to the states where Paula, a 34-year-old widow, worked picking strawberries and blueberries in Oregon’s fields with the help of her children in order to support her family.
They also received help from the nonprofit, Human Solutions in Gresham, along with help from Programa Hispano, St. Anne’s Catholic Church and friends. Today, Alejandrina and her family donate back to these same organizations that once helped them.
But Alejandrina’s life took a different turn when she found out from a high school adviser about a program that was seeking additional students from areas east of Portland. The YES Program (Youth Employment in Summers Program), offered work at Legacy Health hospitals for students from under-represented populations to expose them to potential careers in health care.
At first, Alejandrina wasn’t sure she’d like health care. “I was really scared,” she said, “but my high school adviser encouraged me and said, ‘Just go.’” Alejandrina found the work inspiring, and began to think about a career in health care. She’s been here ever since, recently receiving recognition from Legacy for her 15 years of service, the last six years as a registered nurse at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center specializing in obstetrics.
From emergency room patient to caregiver
Alejandrina said she worked her way through every department at the hospital that first summer: the family birth center, “med-surg,” the emergency room and more. She realized she really liked holding babies, so the family birth center was her favorite. Alejandrina’s coworkers say she was shy when she started, but they say she’s now a steady personality in even the most stressful situations.
Her connection with Legacy gave her the support she needed to pursue a higher education. With scholarships from the YES Program at Legacy Health, she began to pursue her college education. The goal is to help high school students from under-represented backgrounds get their foot in the door to health care professions by offering paid internships and additional money for college as they work toward a health care career. The YES program has helped 82 students between 1999 and 2016.
Building a diverse workforce
Pamela Weatherspoon, Diversity and Community Engagement Program Manager for Legacy, says the YES Program is integral to the future of Legacy Health’s workforce. "We know that having a diverse workforce will make us stronger and assist us in providing quality care to all of our patients. This program actively provides a pipeline for students of color to enter into health care careers by providing them with 10-week summer internships in clinical settings, and educational scholarships," she said.
First woman in her family to graduate college
Alejandrina completed a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program at Mount Hood Community College after her manager told her a CNA certificate would help her get a job in her unit following her internship. Alejandrina focused on science classes in college in order to build up her pre-requisites, and eventually transfer to Portland State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Community Health in 2006, becoming the first woman in her family to graduate from college.
Alejandrina received her nursing degree in May of 2009, becoming the first R.N. in her family.
Helping the family business
Alejandrina continues to help her family with their food cart and catering business, Mixteca Catering, located at the Portland Mercado on Foster Road.
Alejandrina and her three brothers work with their mother to keep the business thriving.
Part of a family
She says working at Legacy Mount Hood has felt like being part of a family. “I was a very shy person in the beginning because I was in a completely new environment at the hospital. However, I found everyone to be very welcoming and eager to teach me. As time went by, I was fortunate to have managers and co-workers help me juggle my work and school schedule so I could graduate, go to nursing school, and become part of a vital obstetrical nursing staff at Legacy Mount Hood. I grew up in Gresham, and now, I feel I am meant to be here, working in the hospital, serving my community.”
Read more about Legacy's work in the community.