Grace Mwenya is a registered nurse (RN) who immigrated to the United States from Zambia over 29 years ago. Nursing enabled Grace to create a life for her family in the U.S. while at the same time giving her extra money to send back home. Grace wanted to do more for her homeland, and eventually purchased a large home in Zambia that was big enough to house the whole neighborhood. As it turned out, this purchase had a greater purpose.
Trouble Back Home in Zambia
Every month, Grace sent money home to her family in Zambia to help support them. One day, she received a phone call from a clinical officer in Zambia stating that her nephew was very sick and that they needed money for a procedure to save his life. Her nephew, who worked for a company that transported toxic materials and had fallen ill from the radiation he was exposed to, did not want to call his aunt who had already sent him money over the years. Thankfully, the clinical officer did not listen to the nephew’s protests and reached out to Grace directly.
After her nephew’s treatment, the clinical officer sent Grace the results. It became very clear to him, through Grace’s thoughtful follow-up questions, that she had a background in medicine. That’s when he asked her two questions that happened to have been weighing on her mind in recent weeks: “When are you coming back to Zambia?” and, “What do you want to do next?”
Do You Want to Start a Hospital With Me?
Grace knew that she wanted her next move to be in the field of medicine. However, she wasn’t sure in what capacity that would be. The clinical offer also asked her, “Do you want to start a hospital with me?” Kitwe, Grace’s hometown and the second largest city in Zambia, has outstanding medical facilities, but they aren’t large enough to accommodate the size of the population. Grace did not need to think twice about the clinical officer’s offer; she immediately said yes, and the idea behind the Hilbengrace Medical Center was born.
Within weeks of chatting, they immediately started the licensing process. The medical center opened in the fall of 2022 and serves as an outreach center, a vaccination clinic, and has radiology and lab services. A big focus for the center is HIV and transmissible disease education. Grace, despite being halfway around the world, is on the team meeting every morning and has interviewed every employee via video call.
How Did She Fund a Hospital?
The easiest answer? Working per diem. Grace was working full-time in 2020 but was laid off during the pandemic. That’s when she made the switch to per diem work. By having complete control of her schedule, she is able to take as many, or as few, shifts as she needs to keep up with the hospital costs. It also helps that Grace doesn’t feel tied to one single facility in the U.S. If or when she returns to Zambia, it will be easier for her to do so.
With the success of the first medical center, which is expanding to offer dental and ophthalmology services, Grace and her partner immediately started talking about opening more locations. They have opened a second facility and are in the planning process of opening a third! Remember the home Grace bought to house her whole neighborhood? Well, instead of renovating it to live in, she is preparing that space to build the third hospital.
As of now, Grace is still working for IntelyCare in the U.S., but she’s always thinking about when she will officially return to Zambia. Either way, she’s happy to continue to improve the lives of those in her hometown. We are inspired by her hard work and contributions to her community in Zambia!