Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=84489
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 5:08:18 PM CST
WASHINGTON – Rosa Maria Llanos, who came to the Mexican consulate office for passport help, was surprised at what got her attention while waiting in line. A “Ventanilla de Salud” or “Window of Health.”
The Mexican consulate in Washington has teamed up with 25 other health agencies to provide medical screenings to its citizens.
Not having seen a doctor in eight or ten years, Llanos, 52, stopped by the health services station recently for a blood pressure screening and picked up some educational brochures.
In addition to passport renewal and identification card services, the consulate is offering a health care station to mostly uninsured Latinos. The program provides vision, blood pressure and HIV screenings, educational information, and referrals to local doctors for follow up.
“Health is not an easy topic, especially if it’s not in your language. I remember the first time I attended to a physician here. I couldn’t describe the pain I was feeling. ‘Where?’ ‘Here.’ But you don’t know exactly the name,” said Enrique Escorza, the consul of Mexico.
The Hispanic Institute for Blindness Prevention has led the effort for the past year and a half, and word-of-mouth has helped raise the program’s popularity in the community. Up to 150 people visit the health service station on a daily basis.
Latin American immigrants are often employed in low-wage jobs in the service sector with little or no health benefits, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. In 2003, more than 11 million immigrants in the U.S. were uninsured, which accounted for 26 percent of the uninsured population.
It’s not just a matter of handing out brochures and doing one-time screenings, Escorza said. Daily phone calls are made to patients to make sure they have followed up with appointments and to receive feedback about how the program is working for them.
It’s not only, “I give you the brochure, and God help you, good luck,” Escorza said.
More than 2,000 vision screenings were performed last year and about 1,700 blood pressure and diabetes tests were performed at the health services station, according to German Valbuena, executive director of the Hispanic Institute for Blindness Prevention.
Among other consulate offices in Washington, only the El Salvador consulate has setup similar health services stations. Valbueno said finding a way to pay for an expensive program like this is difficult. Also, most immigrants who come to the U.S. cannot afford to resist learning English. In order to survive and operate within the complicated U.S. health care system, they have little choice but to learn the language.
Many Latinos, on the other hand, can surf the health care system in Spanish for a few months, Valbuena said. When they eventually get stuck in the bureaucracy, they have somewhere to turn to for help.
“We act like a navigator,” he said.
This year, the program has been given a modest money line in the consulate’s budget, but will also continue to collect donations and grants from non-profit organizations.
About a dozen or so of the 48 Mexican consulate offices across the country have also opened health stations, Escorza said.
“Every single piece of information that you put in hands of someone who attends this office is a life transforming experience,” he said.
The benefit of healthy citizens, Escorza said, contributes to the entire society.
“If they are healthy, they are productive. If they are productive, they can really create the wealth that this country has obtained from them. And we’re happy because it’s a good relationship,” he said.
Escorza hopes the health services stations will expand and eventually become a clinical setting where patients can be seen, treated and prescribed medication.
Valbuena said he hopes this trusting and culturally competent environment will encourage more people to use the facility.
“They feel like they are in Mexico,” he said. “So they feel more willing to take our advice.”