The Filipino-American Association of Greater Aiken made news recently by raising more than $6,000 to provide assistance to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the central Philippines in early November.
Many members of the organization are nurses who work at Aiken Regional Medical Centers, and that is no coincidence. According to Kristen Medlin, administrative director of human resources for the hospital, Aiken Regional relies on health care workers from the Philippines to meet its employment needs.
“It's not so much that there is a shortage of nurses here; it's finding experienced nurses that is a challenge, and these Filipino nurses are experienced,” Medlin said. “In addition to having a lot of work experience, they are very well trained, and their work ethic is just unbelievable. Because we have so many nursing programs in the area, we can attract a lot of nurses. But we have a hard time getting in experienced nurses, and you can't staff a hospital with all new graduates.”
Filipino nurses come to Aiken Regional through HCCA, an international nurse recruitment and deployment firm that is based in Tennessee but also has offices in the Philippines.
“They (the Filipino nurses) are actually employees of HCCA, and their contract with us is for 30 months,” Medlin said. “At the end of 30 months, we can offer them full-time, permanent employment. Most of them end up staying with us; they love the Aiken area.”
Approximately 25 nurses from the Philippines currently are working at Aiken Regional.
“Their education standards are basically the same as they are in this country, and they go through extensive testing to evaluate their English skills,” Medlin said.
Aimee Lim, Amelia Parayno and Wilma Mallen-Pingoy are among Aiken Regional's Filipino nurses. All three came to this country for a similar reason – they could make more money here than they could in the Philippines, which allowed them to support their families better financially.
“Since I was in college, it was my dream to come here,” said Mallen-Pingoy. “I wanted to help my parents. Since I graduated college, I have helped them.”
Mallen-Pingoy worked in England for about three years before arriving in America in 2004.
Lim left the Philippines because she wanted to make sure she could earn enough money to provide each of her two children with a good education. Her son, Kirk Lim, 19, recently completed his culinary arts studies, and her daughter, Kiera Lim, 16, is studying graphic design.
“My sister raised my children, not me,” Aimee Lim said. “I go home (to the Philippines) and visit them once a year. I am a single mom, so if I am at work every day, who was going to take care of them when they were underage?”
Lim was a nurse in Ireland for five years before coming to the United States eight years ago. She worked at Palmetto Health Richland before joining Aiken Regional's staff.
Parayno lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years before becoming an Aiken Regional employee in 2006. She said she paid for her brothers' and sisters' education with the money she earned in Saudi Arabia. Her older son, Hyacinth Simon, 31, recently graduated with a degree in nursing in the Philippines. Her younger son, Mikhail Parayno, 24, is a nursing student at the University of South Carolina.
“I wanted greener pastures,” said Parayno of her decision to leave the Philippines.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.