St. Mary’s Health Clinics partner with Ecuadorian consulate

| March 15, 2013 | 0 Comments
Imelda and her daughter Elena Joana, 1, sit in the Ecuadorian Consulate office in Minneapolis. The area behind them will be remodeled to house Centro Vida y Salud, a health resource center run in cooperation with St. Mary’s Health Clinics. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Imelda and her daughter Elena Joana, 1, sit in the Ecuadorian Consulate office in Minneapolis. The area behind them will be remodeled to house Centro Vida y Salud, a health resource center run in cooperation with St. Mary’s Health Clinics. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Minnesota has a flourishing Latino population, including nearly 40,000 Ecuadorian immigrants who reside in the state, with most of them living in northeast Minneapolis.

They have been coming here in large numbers since the 1990s. Many are undocumented, living under the radar and trying to support family members here and back home.

Because they live in fear of being deported, they have gone without one of their most basic needs: health care.

But that is changing. Members of the Ecuadorian community will soon be able to seek health care without fear because of a groundbreaking agreement signed Feb. 14 between the country of Ecuador and St. Mary’s Health Clinics, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

The two organizations are working together to address the physical and mental health needs of Ecuadorian foreign nationals living and working in Minnesota, particularly the Twin Cities.

SMHC will set up a health resource center inside the Ecuadorian consulate in Minneapolis. Ecuadorian citizens will receive health education, health screenings and referrals to available programs or free health care through SMHC. It is slated to begin later this month.

Trust factor

Thousands of Ecuadorians, almost all of them Catholic, are expected to use the services of the health resource center, which will be called Centro Vida y Salud, or simply CVS.

Given “the fact that we’re a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, I think there’s a trust factor there,” said Barbara Dickie, executive director of St. Mary’s Health Clinics. “The Ecuadorians that want to come to us for help feel safe.”

The arrangement will help people like Imelda, the mother of four children and a Minneapolis resident since 2001.

Imelda, who did not want her last name used, left Ecuador with her husband and two small children 20 years ago in search of a better life. “We like it a lot here, we have enough to get by,” she said. “But when you go to a hospital, the first thing they ask for is an insurance card. We don’t have insurance.”

A pathway likely exists for some Ecuadorians to legalize their status, “but they may not know about it because Ecuadorians are so shy,” said Silvia Ontaneda, consul general for the Ecuadorian consulate in Minneapolis. “They are very humble.”

Ontaneda said that “some would rather die than go to a hospital. I have seen so many cases, it’s so sad. They are afraid they will be turned in to immigration or that they won’t be able to pay and will be put in jail.”

SMHC has been providing health care to low-income and uninsured families for the past 20 years.

“We don’t ask if our clients are documented or undocumented, so we have no idea,” said Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, founder of St. Mary’s Health Clinics. “We take care of everyone because we believe that health care is a basic human right.”

SMHC has been working with the consulate and local churches for a few years, coordinating health fairs and flu shot clinics, so people know about St. Mary’s, said Cristina Flood, community health outreach coordinator for SMHC. “A lot of people are more comfortable coming to the church or the consulate to ask for help,” she said. “

This is a huge deal, that they will have access to something as vital as preventive health care,” Ontaneda said.

“This is the first agreement of this kind in the United States,” she added. “With the goal of improving the physical and mental health of Ecuadorian citizens, our hope is that this will become a model that will help us meet the needs of our citizens wherever they are.”

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Category: Local News