‘Promotores’ plans health education campaign – South Side Weekly
IImmigration advocates in Illinois are gearing up for the second stage of the Immigrant Health Academy, which was launched last fall to educate immigrants about their health rights and allay fears about the access to health. Now that the defenders have almost finished creating the academy program, the next phase is to start training the staff, hopefully by next month.
Trained community leaders, many of whom are immigrants themselves and understand the challenges immigrants face, will help people in their communities access Medicaid, hospital financial assistance, COVID-19 services, and even more in their roles as promoters (community health workers). While the academy primarily focused on Chicago’s south and southwest suburban communities, which have large immigrant populations, later advocates may include metro Chicago.
The academy is a two-year pilot program funded by the Healthy Communities Foundation to its grantee partner, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), and coalition partners: Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, Arab American Family Services, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, and Legal Counsel for Health Justice.
For immigrants, “health care is often associated with fear, whether it is fear of immigration [enforcement] or fear of not being able to afford it or distrust of government and medical systems,” said Edith Avila Olea, Immigrant Communities Policy Manager for ICIRR.
In a 2021 survey published by ICIRR and the Depaul University Center for Community Health Equityof 114 immigrants from Chicago and the suburbs, nearly sixty-five percent reported worried about how they were going to pay a hospital bill or had difficulty paying.
Suzy Rosas came to the United States from El Salvador about sixteen years ago. Today she is a promoter (community health worker) for Mano a Mano in Lake County. Rosas was inspired to become a promoter after her mother tested positive for COVID-19. His mother also had a brain aneurysm partially caused by the long-term effects of COVID-19. Medical staff said the life-saving surgery Rosas’ mother needed was too expensive without insurance.
“I had never heard of hospital financial aid and didn’t even know it was an option for us,” Rosas said.
Two months later, ICIRR and Mano a Mano helped Rosas apply for and receive hospital financial assistance and defended his mother. Rosas said she knows there are many families in her community who need the same kind of assistance and advocacy she once needed.
Advocates have nearly completed creating the six-module program, which will be customized for each community partner. The program will focus on health care access topics, such as privacy and other “know your health rights” topics, access to Medicaid, hospital financial assistance, and services related to COVID-19. The organization’s staff will train community leaders on the information in the program, and those leaders will then educate community members affiliated with the organizations, according to Olea.
Access to health services is a big issue for immigrants, but getting people to share personal information with clinics and hospitals is a barrier the academy wants to remove. “People don’t want to share their information with medical providers,” Olea said. “Many people associate medical providers with the government. They fear that if they share their address and income and receive financial assistance, that information will somehow end up in immigration offices or ICE.
Additionally, when immigrants are ill, there is often an immediate hesitation to go to the doctor for fear of a medical bill or fear of not being understood and not having access to interpretation services, added Olea.
According to Bertha Morín, Director of Community Engagement and Mobilization for Mujeres Latinas in Action. This organization serves Spanish-speaking immigrants, especially women on Chicago’s South Side and Southwestern suburbs.
The program was inspired by community experiences and community voices, she added. Topics came from questions heard by health navigators and community health workers in different communities. “Our hope is that the academy will deepen the capacity of community leaders of Mujeres Latinas en Acción and promoters in Western Suburban Cook County on immigrant health rights and empowerment to push for policies that improve health outcomes for immigrant communities,” Morín said.
About 1.76 million immigrants live in Illinois, representing about fourteen percent of the state’s population, according to ICIRR’s 2021 health academy report. “The main countries of origin are Mexico (thirty-six percent), India (ten percent), Poland (seven percent), the Philippines (five percent) and China (four percent) “, according to the report.
Chicago’s Shriver Center on Poverty Law provides policy support for the academy’s program under the direction of ICIRR and other community partners, according to Andrea Kovach, senior health care justice advocate at Shriver. For example, in the event of a law change, a new law or an amendment to an existing law, Shriver will provide assistance to ensure the program is accurate and up-to-date, Kovach said.
An example is a new Illinois law which came into effect on January 1, 2022 and will require hospitals to allow uninsured patients, including immigrants, to apply for financial assistance before receiving services. The bill also lowers the maximum amount of money that uninsured patients must pay for hospital services from twenty-five to fifteen percent of their income.
“It’s a dynamic process,” Kovach said. “We’re going to have to make these changes to the curriculum. And so, you know, it’s going to be important to make sure the program is always accurate, because it’s an ever-changing environment. She added that there is no other such program in the United States.
Rosas was very emotional when she shared her mother’s story saying she means everything to her. She tearfully noted, “I really want to tell the community that in difficult times, they are not alone. I really want to uplift members of the community who feel they have no options or have no rights.
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Dhivya Sridar is a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and a medical student at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She last wrote for Weekly about a organization that provides an essential support network for immigrants recently released from detention.