Betty Jones

    She crosses borders to bring health care to some of Mexico's most vulnerable children

    By Lisa Cook on December 5, 2013

    Betty Jones (Millard), ’55 BSc(HEc), ’08 DSc (Honorary), has made connections across three nations. But it is the impact she has had on a smaller scale that makes her truly amazing.

    Jones is the founding chair of the Hospital Infantil de Las Californias in Tijuana, Mexico. It’s the region’s first full-service pediatric centre that offers health care to children regardless of their ability to pay, treating the youngest, most vulnerable citizens in this city less than a kilometre from the United States border with Mexico. Since opening its doors in 1994, the facility has offered more than 350,000 medical consultations, close to 8,500 surgeries and 240,000 hours of education.

    Jones first became involved in the community as a volunteer while completing her master’s degree in public health at San Diego State University. She spent two days a week in Tijuana, teaching nutrition to local physicians. The need for a facility like the Hospital Infantil was clear, however, and Jones brought together resources from Canada, the United States and Mexico to get the ball rolling. The facility opened in 1994 with a 2,000-square-foot building housing eight clinics — serving needs from dermatology to orthopedics — and one staff member. Today, the Hospital Infantil is a 56,000-square-foot facility with 300 staff members, 83 per cent of whom are volunteers like Jones. The collaboration remains one that spans the Americas, with several of her friends and colleagues from Alberta still involved. Some of Jones’s U of A classmates have sat on the board.

    Jones continues to play a hands-on role, making the drive once a week from her home in San Diego to the facility.

    Spend a day with Betty Jones (Millard) at Hospital Infantil de Las Californias

    Betty Jones drives to the hospital.

    Jones makes the 30-kilometre drive from her home in Coronado, Calif., to the hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. The return border crossing can sometimes take two or three hours. (All photos by Canadian Press Images/Sandy Huffaker)

    Betty Jones greets patients in the waiting room as she arrives at the hospital.

    Arriving at the hospital, she greets a young patient. Jones counsels families in proper nutrition to ensure children are healthy and ready for surgery.

    Betty Jones consults with a staff member.

    A staff member consults with Jones about a nutrition advice column the hospital provides to the local newspaper twice a month.

    Betty Jones speaks to parents and children in the waiting room.

    Jones visits with waiting families. It costs $15 to see a pediatrician and $20 to consult a specialist, though only 40 per cent can afford full cost. Donations subsidize the rest.

    Betty Jones visits the hospital

    The hospital’s dental unit sees about 400 children a month. One of the dentists painted the colourful designs on the walls.

    Betty Jones seeks advice from a physiotherapist.

    As a physiotherapist works with a young boy and his family, Jones joins in the conversation.

    Betty Jones picks up a baby as the mother looks on

    Jones greets a child and mother arriving for a consultation. Even the decorations in the office speak to good nutrition.

    Betty Jones speaks to a mother about nutrition.

    A mother seeks advice about how to help her baby gain weight before surgery for a cleft palate.

    Betty Jones works at her desk.

    Aside from nutrition counselling, Jones sits on the boards of directors of the three foundations — in Mexico, Canada and the U.S. — that support the hospital. She also teaches classes to health practitioners, parents and staff from community schools.

    Betty Jones poses with two children playing in the playground.

    A new playground, built with donations, gives children a place to play while they wait for siblings who are in surgery or appointments. 

    Betty Jones stands in front of the hospital

    Jones is proud of the cross-border connections that support the hospital. “It’s a collaboration of three countries working together, which to me is amazing and wonderful,” she says. The giant mascot on the building is just one example — it was donated by a couple from Red Deer, Alta.

    Betty Jones at home with her husband, Robert., on their dock.

    Back at home, Jones and her husband, Robert, a veterinarian and avid kayaker, walk down to the dock in front of their home.