Access to social services like health insurance can be limited for undocumented immigrants.
To highlight this issue, the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) and the Science and Technology Entry Program at BU hosted a screening Thursday evening of the HBO documentary “Clínica de Migrantes.” The film follows the history of Puentes de Salud, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides free medical services to the city’s growing population of Latino immigrants.
More than 60 students filed into the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center Multipurpose Room to watch the documentary and participate in a discussion featuring Steven Larson, co-founder and executive director of Puentes de Salud. The undocumented status of many of these people prevent them from purchasing health insurance, a barrier that results in significant health disparities. The clinic attempts to make up for these shortcomings by seeing around 10,000 patients each year.
According to Larson, to help combat the lack of access to health care within the Latino immigrant population, providers need a sound understanding of the community they’re serving.
“For me, the problem was that I wasn’t taught any sort of way of wrapping my head around a community that needed help,” Larson said. “If you want to understand how to leverage your skills as a doctor or nurse to help a community, you have to understand the community.”
Gabriel Valencia, project coordinator for the Science and Technology Entry Program at BU, helped organize the event and said the screening was about more than raising awareness about the situation of undocumented immigrants.
“It’s more than just a film — it represents hope that someone out there is giving hope to people who are voiceless,” Valencia said.
Andy Jean-Baptiste, a junior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, also helped organize the event and said he felt this was a critical moment to draw attention to the issues addressed in the documentary.
“Especially now under the current administration, health care and immigration are super hot topics, and this kind of hits right there,” Jean-Baptiste said. “You get to see someone who really devotes their life to helping out.”
Approximately 90 percent of Puentes de Salud’s patients are undocumented and nearly 100 percent are living below the poverty line which, for a family of four, is defined as having an annual income of under $25,283, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The population Puentes de Salud serves has few available options for seeking preventative care or treatment for noncritical conditions. Emergency medicine, the film contends, is the least cost-effective way to manage a person’s care, and thus, a key component of the organization’s mission is providing access to preventative medicine.
According to Larson, the majority of the work required to provide comprehensive health care isn’t medical. Instead, more emphasis needs to be placed on the social determinants of health — a term that refers to things like environment and socio-economic status, which contribute to a person’s health trajectory but cannot necessarily be addressed in the clinic, he said.
Since Puentes de Salud was founded in 2003, it has facilitated a number of educational initiatives to supplement the work that the clinic does, including English as a second language and GED classes, as well as after-school and early childhood education programs.
“A lot of what we do is delivering health care, but I’d say the majority of what we do is providing education,” Larson said.
Some attendees said they found Larson’s initiative inspirational, as they themselves prepare to go on to careers in medicine or public health. Ray Sukhu, a senior majoring in biology, said the film and Larson’s story spoke to the work that he hopes to do one day.
“Something I’ve always wanted to do is help the community, but not just in the hospital, or only seeing people once a year,” Sukhu said. “I want to make a positive impact.”