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Jeanfromfillmore 11-09-2011 09:21 AM

INLAND: Mexican consulate helps with health care
INLAND: Mexican consulate helps with health care

The Mexican consulate in San Bernardino today will officially open a "health window" aimed at providing preventative health care for Inland Mexican immigrants and linking them with free and low-cost services.

Doctoral students in the Loma Linda University School of Public Health have staffed the counter inside the consulate since Sept. 29. Senior officials from the Mexican health and foreign-relations ministries, along with San Bernardino Consul Carolina Zaragoza, will formally inaugurate the program this morning.

In addition to answering questions one-on-one, Loma Linda students and faculty also give presentations each day on subjects such as obesity, diabetes, nutrition and cholesterol, said Richard Blanco, who administers the program for Loma Linda. Representatives from the Riverside and San Bernardino County public health departments, and from Inland nonprofits, also give presentations, he said.

The Mexican government launched the "ventanilla de salud" program in 2002 in the Los Angeles and San Diego consulates. San Bernardino is the last of the 50 Mexican consulates in the United States to participate. Each consulate partners with one or more universities, clinics, insurance companies, hospitals or organizations.

"There are people who have no idea where to turn," Zaragoza said in Spanish. "Sometimes even U.S. citizens go to the window. The medical system here is very complex."

The program serves anyone, Mexican or not. But locating the services within the consulate leads to more trust among Mexican immigrants, some of whom are wary of seeking health care on their own, Zaragoza said.

"People are afraid to go to the hospital because they’re afraid they’ll ask for documentation," she said.

The program will save money for Inland hospitals, Zaragoza said. Many undocumented immigrants resort to emergency-room care because they believe they don’t have other options. This guides them toward clinics that serve everyone – including undocumented immigrants – and gives them information that will prevent expensive health problems, she said. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for MediCal and for programs such as Healthy Families. Non-citizen legal residents also are not eligible for some programs.
The health window is initially funded with a $25,000 foundation grant, Blanco said. The consulate and university are seeking future funding.

The health window is the newest way for public health doctoral students to gain valuable experience in the field, Blanco said. Other students work in clinics and other venues.

"It’s a way for them to not only be in a classroom situation, but to be out in the community, and to be interacting with other organizations," he said.

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