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Health agencies focus on marketing to poor Hispanics

Health care isn't usually thought of as something to market. But clinics which serve low-income, poor and undocumented Hispanics have to market what they sell, or many poor people would never get help.

In California, there are 6.3 million uninsured people. Of those, 54 percent are Hispanic, with one in four Hispanics from birth to age 64 uninsured.

These people often depend on safety-net health clinics, but unfortunately, some are too afraid to come in for health care."We do annual health fairs, and we try to be at all the local events," said Cora Gonzales, chief operations officer for the Livingston Medical Group.

Gonzales said that many times, the uninsured are afraid to come to a clinic because they have no money to pay the bill.

Gonzales said that even the most destitute people can get health care at the clinic on Main St. in Livingston, even those with no means to pay.

"There are many programs that are available to people, and not just to citizens. We have grants to help the undocumented to pay their bills," she said.

In California, 96 percent of farmworkers are Hispanic, but only 11 percent of them receive insurance from their employer.

"Because people are afraid to come in, they tend to wait until they are extremely sick," Gonazes said.

At Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced, targeting low-income Hispanics is high on the clinic's goals.

Christine Noguera, deputy chief executive officer for the clinic, said that getting Hispanics to trust the clinic is a major goal for the people at Golden Valley.

"I think that it's a growing issue, because most of the uninsured are working all day," Noguera said.

Because of that, the clinic has late hours during the week, and also sees patients on Saturdays. Both Noguera and Gonzales said that citizenship is not required for any care, and the health clinics do not report undocumented aliens.

"We are trying to keep them healthy, waiting too long for health care will cost everyone more," Gonzales said.

Golden Valley does a lot of outreach for patients, including sending a van that goes to farmworker labor camps. The workers are told about the care that is available to them, and the people manning the van also do education about different diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, which are more prevalent in Hispanics.

"Too often, prevention isn't practice by people," Gonzales said. "We make sure to have someone who speaks their language and know the culture."

At Golden Valley, knowing the language and the culture are highly important to employees.

"Patients have to trust their health care provider," said Noguera. "The people who know us, trust us."

When the uninsured come to the clinics with cancer or other serious diseases, there is often no place for the clinic to send them.

"I have had to send people to the emergency room, where they can't turn them away, or back to Mexico, where they can afford the care," Gonzales said.

Changes in the health care system need to come before the low-income, poor people can get the same standard of care as everyone else.

"Health care for a lot people is deteriorating. Unfortunately, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," Gonzales said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com

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