Concerns about deportation can exacerbate health problems among Eagle County immigrant population | VailDaily.com

Concerns about deportation can exacerbate health problems among Eagle County immigrant population

Ryan Summerlin
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Uncertainty over the direction of national immigration policy creates a cloud of fear that manifests as a lot of different symptoms. It might be parents hesitant to attend school sporting events or an undocumented driver who flees the scene of a crash.

Local law enforcement leaders have repeatedly assured undocumented immigrants that they won't be targeted if they report crimes. The Garfield County sheriff and police chiefs worry that many immigrants will be victimized and never turn to law enforcement for help out of fear that they'll be deported.

That fear also keeps immigrants from seeking other kinds of services, even important medical treatments.

In the Roaring Fork Valley and Eagle County, Mountain Family Health Centers has been working to break down that barrier and actively seeks out and encourages immigrants to get the health care they need.

“We help immigrant families overcome barriers and isolation and the fears our immigrant families are facing in the Roaring Fork Valley.”Ross BrooksCEO, Mountain Family Health Center

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The organization has been serving low-income families since the 1970s, and immigrant families are a big segment of the patients.

'Immigrant families'

Its first clinic in the Roaring Fork Valley came to Glenwood Springs in the '90s, and over the past decade, the Mountain Family network has grown rapidly to cover Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.

"That rapid growth has not been driven by a desire to dominate the market or make money off people but from the needs of the local families who can't afford care," said Ross Brooks, CEO of Mountain Family. "And a large subset of that is low-income first- and second-generation immigrant families."

About 50 percent of Mountain Family's patients are primarily Spanish speakers. The mainstream medical care market doesn't always recognize the needs of immigrant families, who are often quieted and shunned behind the scenes, Brooks said.

"We help immigrant families overcome barriers and isolation and the fears our immigrant families are facing in the Roaring Fork Valley," he said.

Risk of deportation

Thousands of people in the community won't go to the doctor or apply for Medicaid because they fear it will mean putting their families at risk of deportation, he said.

Immigrant families who are otherwise trying to keep a low profile will often first engage with their children's schools and their faith communities.

Medical-care providers, on the other hand, are some of the last in line of institutions these families will be comfortable with, Brooks said.

One of the biggest challenges is simply getting these families in the door, so instead of waiting, the organization's solution is to go to them.

Making sure that people are getting basic primary care saves money for the health-care industry and taxpayers as a whole.

Mountain Family's data show that cutting down unnecessary emergency room and hospital visits saves a little more than $15 million per year in the region, Brooks said.

Bilingual staff

The majority of Mountain Family's staff is bilingual, and many are first-generation immigrants themselves.

Some are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or they have children who are DACA recipients. So they have a unique ability to work one on one with these families and build trust.

"Our greatest marketing technique is word of mouth," Brooks said.

Mountain Family has eight clinics spread across Garfield and Eagle counties, with its main offices located in Glenwood. And its clinic in Basalt draws a lot of patients from Pitkin County, as well.

In total, the organization serves 18,500 patients, and the organization has outreach and enrollment workers who can work with immigrant families at every clinic.

Mountain Family has outreach and enrollment workers who go out to the churches, especially Spanish-language churches, to connect with these families.

The organization also works in partnership with Valley Settlement Project, which also works to bridge the gap and dispel myths for the valley's immigrant families, Brooks said. Once they've built that trust level, Valley Settlement refers patients to Mountain Family.

Emergency room costs

There's a significant fear that, even if their children are Medicaid-eligible or on Medicaid, simply bringing them into a clinic puts them at risk for deportation or that immigration officials are going to raid an undocumented family member, he said.

Avoiding health care then leads to downstream costs; people spend more money because they're going to the hospital or emergency room unnecessarily, and ultimately people die earlier because they just won't come in, he said.

Across Mountain Family's service area are an estimated 36,000 people living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which is the mark Mountain Family considers less than a sustainable wage.

For a single person, that's less than $24,000 per year, and for a family of four, that's less than $49,000.

Latino health fair

Mountain Family Health Centers is holding a Latino Health Fair at Basalt High School on Sunday, Nov. 5. Participants will have access to a lab panel for $35, testing for blood, thyroid, liver and cholesterol health. The lab panel can be paid for with cash or a credit card.

Many free services will be available, as well, including dental screening, teeth varnishing for children, blood-pressure checks, testing for body-mass index and testing for glucose and pulmonary function, as well as diabetes education.

The health fair will run from 8 to 10:30 a.m. For information on Mountain Family services, visit mountainfamily.org or call 970-945-2840.

Local locations

Mountain Family Health Centers operates two clinics in the Eagle Valley, in addition to its locations in Basalt, El Jebel, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute. Learn more at http://www.mountainfamily.org.

• Avon Elementary School, 850 West Beaver Creek Blvd., Avon — Eagle County Schools students have priority at the Avon school-based health center, but Mountain Family also provides acute medical and dental services for adults. Adult patients are then transferred to the Edwards Clinic for ongoing care. Services available at this location include well child checks (through age 18); immunizations, including flu; acute visits for colds, coughs, earaches, stomach upsets, etc.; allergies and asthma; reproductive wellness; behavioral health; and the SMILES Dental Program, which includes preventative dental services such as cleanings, exams, X-rays and small fillings. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; call 970-945-2840.

• Edwards Clinic, 320 Beard Creek Road, Edwards — Services available at this location include general medicine, diagnostic services, urgent care, family planning, immunizations, behavioral health, women’s health and obstetrics. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; call 970-945-2840.