Op-Ed: Abriendo Caminos (Opening pathways)

“We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live”. – Dolores Huerta

Education and health are intricately linked. As such, health and education are two life domains that lack equity for all people. When Immigrants arrive in the United States, we look for ways to work, make money, and support “La Raza” (“the people”). We take care of our families and provide safety for our children. As Immigrants and then first, second, third generation Americans we all live, work, play and pay taxes in the same space. However, the gap surrounding access to services remains large.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we explore access to education and healthcare for Hispanic communities in Dubois County. We focus on the Hispanic communities in Huntingburg and Holland, Indiana, who have historically faced barriers in access to education and healthcare. Southwest Dubois County Schools are working to change the narrative for students in these communities.  

Examples of barriers to education equity include a student who cannot stop coughing, a child who needs cochlear implants, a high school senior struggling with substance use, and a 6th-grade student who just arrived in the United States traumatized by “the journey”. Other barriers include providers that rely on patients to bring an informal interpreter, providers who don’t provide materials and information in Spanish, and not adequately explaining the billing process.

These are just some of the scenarios that we have to consider for access to education and healthcare. As a community, we have the resources to eliminate barriers to education and healthcare access. When people can access and understand information, they can act on it. 

Eliminating barriers to Hispanic health equity can happen through initiatives such as: testing Spanish language materials with the intended audiences (such as participating at the bilingual health fair), hiring bilingual staff, providing live video translation services, using plain language, and developing online content in both English and Spanish (such as intake forms).

As a means to eliminate barriers to both education and healthcare equity, we developed Café en el Parque, a Spanish language community meeting held monthly in the Huntingburg City Park. We meet to communicate, learn and provide trustworthy information related to access to health and education services. Our goal is to keep our students in school and ensure equitable access to healthcare. 

Mobile Health Equity

This has been a long journey as a community. We are navigating this journey, in partnership with Southwest Dubois Schools Corporation and LifeSpring Health Systems, to reach the highest level of health in our communities. LifeSpring Health System has a mobile health unit that provides healthcare directly in communities. The LifeSpring mobile health unit is on campus at Southridge High School (in the back parking lot) every Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., accessible by students and staff. The LifeSpring mobile unit is a federally qualified healthcare center (FQHC), providing medical services to anyone regardless of their ability to pay. LifeSpring offers an income-based sliding fee scale, with no payment due at the time of your appointment. All patients, regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay are welcome

The LifeSpring mobile unit can make referrals for substance abuse treatment, primary care, and behavioral health services (including therapy and psychiatric services) at our office in Jasper. Other healthcare services that can be provided by the LifeSpring mobile unit include preventative care (such as routine blood work, annual checkups, and screenings), physical exams; acute/sick visits (such as conditions like infections, fractures, cuts, cold, flu, and sore throat), management of chronic disease (such as diabetes and hypertension), wound care and management, minor procedures, well-child checkups, and more. 

The Process

On Thursdays between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., a student in Southwest Dubois Schools Corporation can take advantage of the LifeSpring mobile health unit. To schedule an appointment with the LifeSpring mobile health unit, you must first complete an intake form, available online in Spanish (https://bit.ly/ls-escuela) and English (https://bit.ly/ls-school). LifeSpring staff will then call you to schedule an appointment with our Mobile health unit at Southridge High School. You can also call  812-482-3020 to schedule your appointment over the phone. Note: parents MUST sign intake paperwork. Parents can opt to attend the appointment either via in person, telephone, through Google Meet, or not at all. 

It is only through working together to achieve equity in all areas of our community that we will thrive. Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by creating equity in education and healthcare in our communities and by supporting programs that enhance multiculturalism and global skills. 

Rossina Sandoval Monsivias and Bonifacio Aleman

Rossina Sandoval Monsivias is the Director of Community Engagement for Southwest Dubois School Corporation and a member of the Board of Directors for LifeSpring Health Systems. You can follow Rossina on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/RossinaSM).

Bonifacio Aleman is the Health Equity Program Manager for LifeSpring Health Systems and a doctoral student in social work at Spalding University. You can follow Bonifacio on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/bonifacio-aleman).