2005 Inductee - Dr. Guillermo Vicuna

2005 Inductee - Dr. Guillermo Vicuna

Nearly everyone selected for the Hall of Fame is so honored that they enthusiastically accept. But Dr. Guillermo Vicuña has been asked to join since 1992 and he had always refused, until this year. Maybe he was too modest to accept, but more likely he was too busy helping too many people.

By profession he is a dentist, but he is better known as a humanitarian, a provider of health care to those who could least afford it. Think of Su Salud and you must think of Dr. Vicuña. He is the founder and past president of Su Salud, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the promotion of disease prevention and education.”

Dr. Vicuña resigned from Su Salud’s Board of Directors in July for health reasons, but will continue to teach a class and advise the board. He’s focusing on a two year student of the effects of health education on women farm workers. 100 women in a Lodi labor camp were evaluated for the study in April.

“Women are the hardest working group I have ever met in my life. They work all day in the fields and then work most of the night at home. They cook, clean and help their children with homework in a language they don’t understand.”

Su Salud started in 1978 and was held yearly for over 20 years. Most of the attendees were Latino and farm workers. At least 75% of farm workers do not have health insurance and most do not earn more than $6,000 a year.

Guillermo co-founded Su Salud with Carlos Meca, an internist and Pablo Alvarez, a psychologist. “He was a very passionate and committed leader the main impetus within the organization,” admits Meca. “Vicuña was one of the few people who saw the appalling living conditions of the farm workers and wanted to do something about it,” remembers Guillermo Brun, Su Salud’s treasurer.

“Look, this is not acceptable in this country,” stated Vicuña.

After 10 years the focus shifted from one-time screening because there was “no power to do follow-up care.” The grand purpose of Su Salud is to “help educate and care for members of the Spanish-speaking community who were missing out on health care because of a language barrier with English-speaking professionals.” Informational broadcasts on local television stations were part of the outreach programs.

“Hispanics were given an awareness that prevention is better than having to face the particular illness,” reasoned Meca.

The first Su Salud fair examined 80 patients at St. Linus Church. Dr. Vicuña and seven other volunteers worked the examination tables. The sixth annual fair treated 12,000 patients. The seventh annual fair got so big it was moved to the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds. Nearly 15,000 patients were seen. The last fair in 1997 was staffed by 1,500 volunteers and saw 18,000 patients.

Saint Mary’s Clinic appointed him Staff Practitioner in 1987. Once a week the poor and working poor would get free dental care. In 1985 the Su Salud Health Fair was started. This annual event offered “free diagnostic testing, medical and educational information to thousands of underprivileged Hispanics.”

The Disease Prevention Center opened at San Joaquin General Hospital in 1998. It was supposed to replace Su Salud, but failed because “patients at the hospital weren’t being referred to it because doctors were too busy treating and writing prescriptions.”

Guillermo was born and educated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was born in 1949 and became an odontologist in 1973. Two years later he earned a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Preventive Dentistry Department at UC San Francisco. In 1976 he received his dental license to practice from the California Board of Dental Examiners. He has had his own practice since 1977.

A partial list of his awards follows. The first President Bush named him one of the 1,000 Points of Light. The Stockton Board of Realtors selected him “Stocktonian of the Year.” KOVR 13 and the American Institute of Public Services gave him the prestigious Jefferson Award. The American Dental Association made him the recipient of their 1991 Community Preventive Dentistry Award.

Guillermo has also won the Attorney General of the State of California Award for Achievements in the Area of Medicine. In 1991 he was given the First Lady of California Volunteer Award. The Colgate Company found him deserving of the “Bright Smiles - Bright Futures” Award for outstanding community service.

There is no way to know how many doctors, young people and others from the very poor to the very wealthy Dr. Vicuña has motivated, inspired and influenced, but it is known that Gandhi was one of the people that served as a role model for him.

It is with great pride and honor that Dr. Guillermo Vicuña be inducted into the Mexican American Hall of Fame in 2005.