In A Border Region Where Immigrants Are Wary, A Health Center Travels To Its Patients : Code Switch The staff of a health center in New York State noticed that farm workers were struggling to get to clinics. So the staff decided to bring check-ups to them — through video.
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In A Border Region Where Immigrants Are Wary, A Health Center Travels To Its Patients

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In A Border Region Where Immigrants Are Wary, A Health Center Travels To Its Patients

In A Border Region Where Immigrants Are Wary, A Health Center Travels To Its Patients

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Our Take A Number series is looking at problems around the world and solutions through a single number. And today's number is 9,000. That's how many farm workers are getting health care thanks to a nonprofit in upstate New York. Many of these workers are immigrants living close to the Canadian border. Some don't like to drive and risk running into the Border Patrol. So if they can't get to the clinic, the clinic is coming to them. NPR's Kat Chow explains.

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: We're in a rural town in Yates County, about an hour's drive from Rochester, N.Y. It's around 7 p.m., dark out. Sirene Garcia's laptop is on the hood of her car.

SIRENE GARCIA: So the problem is that there's very poor Internet connection inside.

CHOW: Garcia is the director of special programs at Finger Lakes Community Health, a network of health centers in the region. Right now, Garcia is trying to find Internet service to test out a video call for the center's pilot telehealth program. Good Internet service means a doctor miles away can talk to a patient about his or her health concerns on video.

GARCIA: Can you see me OK?

CHOW: Inside the apartment are half a dozen or so people, most of them farm workers. They're standing around a small kitchen next to a shelf filled with cans and bags of food. Some of Garcia's colleagues have set up a makeshift doctor's clinic. They're meeting their patients for the night.

(CROSSTALK)

CHOW: Pablo Lopez is one of the people who lives here, and he's getting a checkup. Two weeks ago, he came here from Mexico on a temporary visa to work on a vineyard. He's come to the U.S. for this sort of work seven times over just as many years. And when he first got here, he was worried. He'd seen TV reports about immigration, the police.

PABLO LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARY ZELAZNY: We just have more presence here of Border Patrol.

CHOW: This is Mary Zelazny. She's the CEO of Finger Lakes Community Health, which serves about 27,000 people total in the region. She championed this new in-camp video call idea. The organization's eight health clinics are within a hundred miles from the U.S.-Canada border, which means a lot of these farm workers are afraid to get on the roads. Many of them are people of color or immigrants. And regardless of their citizenship status, any run-ins with law enforcement can cause a lot of anxiety.

ZELAZNY: I don't ask any patient that comes into my health centers what their immigration status is because I don't care. My job and my team's job is to make sure that we give them the best health care that they can get.

CHOW: Earlier that day, I went to a training for the new telehealth program. So far, besides concerns about getting Internet service to actually make the video calls, it's working. Orlando O'Neill is one of the outreach coordinators, and he thinks the program will address a lot of the fear.

ORLANDO O'NEILL: They're afraid to come to a health center even if they're feeling sick or ill. This will be, you know, a good tool for them to - better health care.

CHOW: That is, if they can get decent Internet. Back at the apartment building, Sirene Garcia fiddles with her laptop and a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.

GARCIA: So it says that we have excellent service right now. So I'm going to try to walk into the house and see what happens.

CHOW: She carries her gear into the apartment, slowly watching the laptop screen.

GARCIA: When we come into the building, the call disconnects.

CHOW: The pilot program still has some things to work out before launch. Tonight, a nurse practitioner checks 42-year-old Pablo Lopez's vital signs the old-fashioned way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One-twenty-two over 84.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

CHOW: Kat Chow, NPR News, New York.

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