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Trailblazers and advocates: Dr. Edwin and Delma Rivera promoted a healthy Hispanic community

October 06, 2021

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Dr. Edwin and Delma Rivera left a lasting mark on the Hispanic community in York, through their work to improve health, access to services and civic engagement.

Dr. Edwin and Delma Rivera left a lasting mark on the Hispanic community in York, through their work to improve health, access to services and civic engagement.

Dr. Edwin Rivera and his wife, Delma, were trailblazers, patient advocates and community champions who changed the landscape of medicine in York County, as a pioneering Hispanic couple who brought medical care to their community. 

WellSpan celebrates the Riveras during Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, when we recognize and highlight the achievements and contributions from our friends, neighbors and colleagues whose roots are in Hispanic culture. 

Dr. Rivera died in 2006; his wife in 2014. The couple left a legacy in the York community. 

“Every day, we walk on the path that the Riveras built and paved,” said Marcela Myers, WellSpan director of language interpretation and cultural services. “They set an example of advocacy, health equity and compassion that we are proud to carry on in our community.” 

After completing military service during the Korean War, his medical education, and his residency, Dr. Rivera, his wife and their young family moved from Puerto Rico to York. Dr. Rivera acquired a practice from a retiring physician and opened his office at 518 Madison Ave., York, on July 17, 1961. He was a family medicine physician at that practice for 38 years and a physician at WellSpan York Hospital for 34 years. 

Delma was an integral part of her husband's medical practice. With a degree in home economics, she was a secondary school teacher before she and her husband moved to York. Her background, teacher’s heart and genuine love for people were a wonderful match for her husband’s busy family care practice. 

Here are just a few of the Riveras’ accomplishments: 

  • They were pioneers who worked to reduce disparities in health care. They recognized the danger and unfairness of relying on bilingual children to interpret for family members in medical settings. As a result, Delma served as an interpreter for her husband’s patients at his practice and often at WellSpan York Hospital. The Riveras shone a light on the importance of medical interpretation, their efforts leading to what is today WellSpan’s Department of Language, Interpretation and Cultural Services.   
  • In the early years of Dr. Rivera's career, he often served in the role of a mental health provider because access to bilingual bicultural mental health providers was limited in York at the time. He recognized the importance of overall physical and mental health. 
  • The Riveras worked to educate and provide health information to the Hispanic community. They created and did their own Spanish language public service announcements for local radio stations, and the local access television channel in York. They organized community seminars on medical issues they recognized as prevalent in York’s Hispanic population such as diabetes, nutrition, mental health awareness, and tobacco cessation. 
  • The Riveras recognized that broader civic engagement was equally important to their efforts toward healing and the overall well-being of their patients. Most notably, they were involved in opening the first York Spanish American Center. Besides the Center, this couple lent their considerable expertise and energy to many community agencies as board members and supporters, including the Salvation Army, United Way, York Health Corporation, WellSpan York Hospital Medical Auxiliary, and First Presbyterian Church. 

The Riveras always acknowledged how welcomed they felt into the broader York community when they first arrived in the early 1960s, according to their daughter, Delma Rivera-Lytle. The couple became a welcoming bridge to other newcomers to York, especially those who shared a common first language, heritage, and place of birth.