Laura Lopez, second from left, urges day laborers at Street Level Health Project, to set aside their fears and enroll their children in Medi-Cal.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Some undocumented parents are not enrolling their children in a free, full-scope health care program for fear their information will reach the federal government’s hand, says Street Level Health Project worker Norma Calmo.
Nor will they enroll in the food stamps program, even if it means having to make do with very little to eat.
To allay such fears, Laura Lopez, a family specialist at Highland Hospital, told day laborers who had gathered at Street Level here in the city’s heavily Latino Fruitvale district May 5 that information they provide on application forms is “protected.”
“If you are not enrolled in Medi-Cal or in the Food Stamps program, do it,” urged Lopez in Spanish, during a community forum organized by New America Media, at which she was the speaker. “I can assure you that nobody is sharing your data; your immigration case doesn’t have anything to do with your health access.
““If you have minors or newborns that are American citizens,” she went on, “it is their right to have complete health coverage. Adults, even those who are undocumented, are eligible for Emergency Medi-Cal and HealthPAC (Health Program of Alameda County).”
Lopez also told the audience that it was important that parents renew their children’s insurance programs in a timely way because that will allow them to access a plethora of services, including mental and dental health care.
Lopez, who was born and raised in Peru, said she can relate to undocumented workers and their challenges because she herself was one. After working as a live-in nanny and enrolling in English language classes, she made her way from Miami to Oakland and began working in community-based health clinics. Inspired by what she saw in her workplace, she co-founded the Street Level Health Project, along with Kathy Ahoy.
More recently, she began working as a family specialist at Highland Hospital, the largest county hospital in the Alameda Health System.
At Street Level, clients wanting to enroll in Medi-Cal or other health care programs, have health care navigators to assist them.
“We are enrolling new people in health care on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” said Hermelinda Aguiar, a health navigator at Street Level Health Project. “It’s better to come before 9:00 am to assure yourself a spot.”
People can be enrolled with a picture ID, proof of address and income, she said.
Aguiar said that in their Oakland office, there are also MAM-to-Spanish interpreters, who are in great demand given the number of people coming from Guatemala, many of whom often find themselves “lost in the system.”
Like Calmo, Francisco Pablo Matias, 56, work as an interpreter at Street Level. He has been enrolled in Medi-Cal for four years now, a program he uses for dental and vision care, as well as getting medication for his diabetes. Originally from Guatemala, Matias was granted asylum in the United States
Sivan Sadeh, health access program co-manager at Street Level, noted that even those who are waiting for asylum or are on U visas (for victims of domestic violence) or T visas (victims of human trafficking) are entitled to full coverage while their case is pending.
Unfortunately, “we don’t have enough community clinics that offer these services for our communities,” she said.
“Our free clinic helps to connect immigrants with services and we will continue do it in spite of funding challenges,” she said.