In the Field: Binational Health Week with MCN and Ventanilla de Salud in Austin
By Leslie Diaz, Health Network Associate
Photos by Abigayle Peka-Stansberry
This year, Migrant Clinicians Network was able to have its hands directly involved in the celebration of National Hispanic Awareness Month in Austin, Texas through its oversight of the office of the Ventanilla de Salud (VDS) in the Mexican Consulate. The VDS office is geared toward education and services to beneficiaries from in and around Latin America living within the 23 counties surrounding the state’s capital, services they provide to folks when they visit the Mexican Consulate and to the larger community during public health fairs. This year, VDS led local efforts to celebrate health through Binational Health Week (BHW).
BHW is an annual event celebrated by federal, state, and local organizations and government agencies as a way to mobilize underserved Latinos in the US by offering resources to improve their health and well-being. This sixteenth installation of health activities primarily taking place within the US had its kick-off in Mexico under the slogan, “Because the right to health has no borders.” Here in Austin, activities were coordinated through a series of roundtable meetings throughout the year that consisted of consulate staff, organizational heads, and community stakeholders in order to choose the most relevant activities to better the health of our community. Thanks to such a dedicated team, activities took place in each corner of the city!
Through the coordinated service provision planning with local agents, in large part by Austin Voices, the Austin Project, and Restore Rundberg, MCN focused on infectious disease, chronic disease, access to health insurance, mental health, and women’s health, all areas that the Binational Health Week committee had identified as key areas for the week. Our efforts were greatly supported by the generous sponsorship of Superior Health Plan, United Health Care, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Wells Fargo.
The presence of the BHW was felt in multiple areas of Austin. A BHW “soft opening” included a series of smaller events, the first of which was located in the southwest end of the city during which Seton Hospital’s The Big Pink Bus program provided free mammograms at the Sustainable Food Center at Sunset Valley, in addition to immunization by the Care Van and dental checks for children by Successful Smiles, The next day was BHW kick-off in the northeast area of Austin at Dobie Middle School, which serves students from families with fewer resources. This day featured food, fun, and medical services, including dental screenings and cleanings with Successful Smiles, HIV and other STI tests and adult immunizations offered by Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department, blood sugar screenings, blood pressure screenings, and sports physicals for students provided by Community Care Health Centers, as well as cervical screenings at The Big Pink Bus At this great event, around 450 individuals from a variety of ethnicities were present and able to take advantage of the opportunities.
At an event in Mendez Middle School in the southeast quadrant of the city, the Ventanilla de Salud partnered with the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program to involve teachers and parents in activities like a bike safety clinic, a student kitchen, and a Google-sponsored tech booth. A longtime partner with Mendez Middle School, VDS was able to engage around 250 members of the community in the most meaningful way.
In the following days, the Consulate hosted a training for Community Health Workers in Spanish and English sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services Tobacco Research & Evaluation Team Program. The Promotoras Unidas de Salud actively working with MCN at VDS were looking forward to using the information from the trainings with their patients at the Mexican Consulate, where they offer visitors information and resources on cancer through a new program funded by the American Cancer Association.
To close out the week at the consulate with a bang, service provision was again brought to the community at the monthly in-house Health Fair hosted by Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez. Vendors tabled at every inch of the consulate, inside and out. In addition to the 60 immunizations, blood pressure and sugar screenings, MCN coordinated hearing screenings with Connect Hearing and skin cancer screenings with the American Association of Dermatology. With a healthy number of beneficiaries naturally making their way through the Consulate, over 100 health screenings were administered before noon!
The northeast quadrant was the final area of Austin that felt the promotion of health during BHW: Ventanilla de Salud and the scholarship program of the consulate partnered with Univision to hold a 5k run entitled Corre Latino. While most of the BHW events have already drawn to their successful closes, a free class on nutrition offered by Texas A&M Agrilife Program begins this week and will be held every Wednesday morning until the first week of December. The push for health continues as this year’s BHW gives a strong MCN grita!