Help With Health
County clinics, health department team up to address Latino disparities.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Jaime Gomez hadn’t seen a doctor in over a year when he showed up at Clinica de Salud’s Circle Clinic in Salinas on Aug. 30 with coccidioidomycosis, or “valley fever,” from breathing in fungal particles from the soil in the fields where he worked. It’s a disease that, if detected early, can be easily treated. Gomez, however, died two days after his visit. He was just 28.
“How can we let this happen in this country?” asks Sara Velasco, the medical director of Salinas Valley health clinic network Clinica de Salud. To her, Jaime Gomez embodies the compound problems facing Latinos.
“We have kids not graduating from high school who have to continue working the fields or run in gangs,” Velasco says. “We have people of all ages living in fear of deportation. And there’s the lack of insurance.”
Almost 32 percent of Latinos in the U.S. were uninsured in 2009, according to U.S. Census data. “If we don’t address these issues as part of a holistic health care system, we’re missing the ball,” Velasco adds.
Fortunately, she and a host of partners from local to international levels have been working to tackle Latino health disparities for a decade.
Locally, Clinica de Salud and the Monterey County Health Department are leading the charge, providing free educational workshops and screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments disproportionately impacting Latinos.
The Binational Health Partnership, started in 2001 by the Mexican government and the Health Initiative of the Americas at UC Berkeley, brings together health departments, nonprofits and grassroots clinics to provide increased access to care for Latinos, particularly recent U.S. immigrants. Nine countries and 178 task forces participate in the partnership, which culminates each October with two weeks of health-centric events and activities targeting Latino communities.
“We organize events in communities and schools, so we’re not always at a government building,” says Jesse Herrera, the ethnic services manager for the county Health Department. “We make ourselves accessible to the immigrant community.”
But a bilingual presence at a neighborhood BBQ isn’t always enough. The county’s indigenous Oaxacan population has swelled in the past decade, and many in this demographic speak little or no Spanish, instead communicating in indigenous languages like Triqui, Mixteco and Zapotec. This makes them harder to reach and less likely to seek medical attention when they need it.
“We’re meeting with indigenous leaders to help them inform their communities of our work,” says Erick Lopez, the regional Binational Health Partnership coordinator. He’s also working with local translators to make Latino health clinics multi-lingual and culturally appropriate.
Meanwhile, local health officials have been lobbying for passage of Assembly Bill 916, which would establish a task force on the health care needs of farmworkers. The bill, now in the Assembly Rules Committee, is a comprehensive approach to addressing health care needs for the undocumented.
“These are the populations that fall through the cracks of health care reform,” says Maximiliano Cuevas, Clinica’s CEO. “Yet they make up the backbone of one of the wealthiest industries in our county.”