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Building Access for Vaccines, Mental Health Needs, Health Education at Austin’s Ventanilla de Salud

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Building Access for Vaccines, Mental Health Needs, Health Education at Austin’s Ventanilla de Salud

[Editor’s Note: Ventanilla de Salud (VdS) is a network of health outreach programs operating out of each of the Mexican Consulates in the US. Migrant Clinicians Network has been a longtime advisor to the entire VdS network and the fiscal agent of three VdS offices in Texas: Austin, Del Rio, and Eagle Pass.  Here, we hear from the largest of the three, the Ventanilla de Salud in Austin.]

In December, Roxana Pineda, MPH, Ventanilla de Salud (VdS) Coordinator and Health Network Associate for Migrant Clinicians Network, was getting ready to open yet another weekly vaccination event at the Mexican Consulate in Austin, Texas. She had arranged for Austin Public Health to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations at the consulate, where thousands of Mexican nationals and other Latinxs visit each year. When Austin Public Health arrived, however, they had news: they had $100 gift cards to offer to anyone who got their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and completed a survey. Pineda rushed into action.

“I ran and sent the information to Melissa from La Raza, the local radio station,” Pineda recalled. "Many people are happy with the gift card – but that's not the only reason people got vaccinated that day.”

Pineda and her colleague Jimena de Leija, Promotora de salud with MCN at the VdS, have been actively informing visitors to the consulate of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for travelers. “If they travel to Mexico and back to the US with a tourist visa, they need to show proof of vaccination.  We have a flyer with information,” Pineda noted. “We tell them, be prepared. If your family is coming, make sure they come vaccinated, and I think that's one of the reasons people are getting vaccinated here.” They also ensure that children aren't left out, with a table full of stuffed animals and other goodies for children who receive their vaccine.

In all, in the month of December, the VdS health fairs resulted in 226 COVID-19 shots being administered – first, second, and booster doses, to adults and children who are age-eligible, to anyone who walks in the door, at no cost.  The efforts were a great way to end a year where the VdS became an important vaccine site, starting in May, when the VdS collaborated with the US Hispanic Contractors Association to offer vaccines every day from 8am to 3pm. Almost 1,400 people received vaccines at the VdS in May alone. In all, more than 4,000 shots have been administered at the VdS last year.

VdS flyer

But COVID-19 vaccination fairs are just one part of the incredible range of work that the VdS has completed despite COVID in 2021. The VdS aims to reduce barriers to care and ensure that everyone, regardless of immigration status, language preference, cultural differences, or poverty, can access basic preventative services and education in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way. To that aim, the VdS in Austin served over 34,100 people last year, through over 784 educational services and 186 health sessions. Preventative services at health fairs with a total of 91 community health partners led to at least 224 early detections of health concerns, including HIV, STIs, kidney malfunction, and myopia. Over 150 people received flu shots as well.

The VdS also recognizes that local Latinxs have a need for mental health services, and largely lack access. To begin to address mental health needs, the VdS in Austin, in conjunction with the VdS offices in Del Rio and Eagle Pass, has offered monthly virtual calls for women, called Charlas entre mujeres. Each monthly session has a theme and an expert speaker that is broadcast on Facebook Live. Then, the recording is turned off and the women begin a personal discussion.

“The Charlas are really important for Spanish-speaking women,” Pineda emphasized. “There are very limited resources that are available in Spanish” on the topics that are covered, and even fewer opportunities for personal discussion around them. As the pandemic wears on, isolation among Latinas has been highlighted as a growing health concern; these Charlas offer an opportunity for connection during these debilitating times. They also offer skills-building and networking, all in Spanish. In 2021, topics included “Anxiety and How to Control It,” “Developing Emotional Balance,” and “Take Care of Yourself.”

Additionally, the VdS offers referral services for mental health needs. In conjunction with the University of Texas and UNAM, the VdS has provided rapid mental health screenings to dozens, which resulted in detection of depression, psychosis, epilepsy, dementia, substance abuse, and more.

VdS participants

The VdS has an active and engaging online presence, particularly on Facebook, where Pineda shares upcoming events, educational health tips, updated health information including on prevention of COVID-19, and more. 

The VdS also organizes annual events. The VdS participated in Binational Health Week with numerous in-person and virtual events. Binational Health Week is usually followed shortly by the annual Women’s Conference, where the VdS hosts an all-day conference in Spanish to build a space where women can express themselves, build ties with each other, and form a culture of resilience.  This year, the VdS’s annual Women’s Conference was held virtually once again due to COVID-19. Around 30 women participated via Zoom and 62 watched along on Facebook Live. 

As a result of all of this work, hundreds of Austin-area Latinxs have increased access to health services and a trusted source of quality health education – and the VdS plans to grow these efforts in 2022. As always, the VdS responds to the needs of the community, and Pineda is clear she is listening. “We are just trying to accomplish more, to see how we can do more,” she said.

To hear about local events and virtual learning opportunities, follow the Ventanillas on Facebook:

Austin Ventanilla de Salud 
Eagle Pass Ventanilla de Salud 
Del Rio Ventanilla de Salud 

Austin Ventanilla de Salud

Eagle Pass Ventanilla de Salud

Del Rio Ventanilla de Salud



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