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#5155: Fair to bring care to communities (fwd)
Published Saturday, September 23, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Fair to bring care to communities BY ANDREA ROBINSON
A Little Haiti church will be transformed into a gigantic wellness
center to provide a service chronically lacking in poor and immigrant
communities: healthcare. Organizers say that while health fairs may seem
routine, this one offers the best chance for help in neighborhoods such
as Little Haiti, Little Havana, Florida City and Liberty City, where
some are afraid to seek medical help. Their reluctance partly stems from
financial and immigration concerns, said the Rev. Harold Vieux, a
spokesman for the Conference of Haitian Pastors United in
Christ Inc. That organization is spearheading the Breaking the Chain
health fair, which will be held today at Emmanuel Baptist Church in
Little Haiti. ``They're not coming because of their legal status, [lack
of] funds or other conditions,'' Vieux said. ``They don't have
insurance, and some don't have money to go. They're trying to avoid
having bills. They choose not to go until they can't carry on anymore.''
The fair follows a two-day healthcare summit in Miami Beach and the
release of an advocacy group's report that 450,000 people in Miami-Dade
County don't have health insurance. Figures show that seven of every
eight uninsured individuals are black or Hispanic. The event has been
announced on television and local Haitian- and black-oriented
radio stations, and Vieux estimates about 1,000 will come out for
services. Members of the Conference of Haitian Pastors believe the free
fair will be less threatening for immigrants and poor people. The
organization, which started last year, has been involved in spreading
awareness among Haitian Americans about HIV and AIDS. Advocates concede
seeking healthcare often appears as a risk to immigrants. Some clinics
ask for documentation of residency status, said Leonie Hermantin,
executive director of the Haitian American Foundation. ``There's a fear
that the information will be passed along [to the Immigration and
Naturalization Service],'' Hermantin said. ``Even if you're legal . . .
there's a belief that INS will use [it] against you.'' Immigration
activists and others pointed to a practice at Miami's Jackson
Memorial Hospital in which patients are required to show immigration
documents before they can seek care at the hospital and its clinics.
Until last month, those who failed to provide documents were charged
higher fees. But the hospital has adopted a new policy in which fees
charged to foreign-born patients are based on income and Miami-Dade
residency. Patients still will be asked their immigration status, but
the information is used only for seeking state and federal
reimbursements, said Sandy Sears, a Jackson Hospital administrator.
Another problem is that many immigrants come from countries ``where
there are few medical doctors,'' Hermantin said. They are accustomed to
``relying on their own medical practices. If you're going to a doctor
just for him to say you're OK, that's a waste of money.''
Today's health fair will focus on prevention. The ministers so far have
secured the services of about 10 clinics and more than 20 community and
health-related groups -- far more than they had anticipated.
They will provide an array of services including HIV testing, medical
screening, eye exams, prostate screening and mammograms.
Sandra Jaramillo of Hialeah Gardens could use some of those services.
Jaramillo, a native of Colombia, hasn't had a regular checkup since
losing her health insurance more than three years ago. In December 1999,
she ended up in Palmetto General's emergency room with a severe earache.
That cost her $117 for medicines and $620 for the hospital visit.
Now employed at a temporary worker agency, she said she can't afford to
pay. But she is concerned about her health, and said she will be at the
Little Haiti health fair. ``In this country if you don't have insurance
and you get sick, it's terrible,'' Jaramillo said. ``I'm a citizen, but
it's hard when you don't have