Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The doctor is in - Community -

The doctor is in - Community -
For Dr. Max Cuevas, chief executive officer of Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, the case of a teenager who delivered a baby girl in a portable toilet alongside a field in Soledad last month is an example of the health problems the migrant community faces.

"If she had known that we have medical services for her, if she had told us 'I have a problem, I need help,' we would have given her care quickly and without cost," Cuevas said from the clinics' headquarters in east Salinas.

In May, Cuevas received the Tequio Prize from the General Consulate of Mexico in San Jose for the services the clinics provide to the community.

The consulate gives the annual award, named after the voluntary work the indigenous groups of Mexico perform for their communities, to an organization that has performed outstanding community service.

In years past, the award has gone to musical group Los Tigres del Norte and the Salinas Migrant Education Program.

The Clinica de Salud del Valle is a network of eight clinics and one mobile unit serving Chualar, Castroville, Salinas, Soledad, Greenfield and King City. The clinics provide health care to about 34,000 patients with more than 116,000 visits per year.

Cuevas estimates that 40 percent of the clinics' patients are homeless and migrant farm workers without health insurance.

Cuevas, 49, knows very well the life in the fields. Born near Fresno of Mexican parents, he spent several years picking fruits such as oranges, olives and cherries.

"I can say with pride we were experts in ladder harvesting," Cuevas said.

At that time his family suffered from lack of health care. The farm workers who needed medical services had to go to county clinics where somebody threw numbered tokens up in the air. If the worker caught a token, he or she would receive medical attention.

If not, the ailing worker could wait until the end of the day to see if he or she could, by chance, still get medical care. Otherwise, the patients would go home and come back the next day to see if this time they got a lucky token.

"I said to myself, we have to do better service than that," Cuevas said.

"And with that goal I enrolled in UC San Francisco to study medicine, with the goal of helping the community."

He came to the clinics 18 years ago and took on the task of expanding the clinics' services, which now include preventive medicine.

"Years ago we implemented a program to prevent injuries in the field, to learn how to use machinery and equipment and how to work without getting hurt," he said. Other programs the network promotes are dental and mental health.

Cuevas is planning to design programs aimed at Oaxacans, the most recent immigrants to the Salinas area. He said he would like to help establish a bi-national health insurance program "with the possibility of Mexican health insurance companies could cover medical services in the United States, and vice versa."

Right now, he's planning to begin a series of meetings to inform the migrant community of the services the network offers.

"Everyone deserves to have medical care, even if they are undocumented, and especially pregnant women," Cuevas said. "If people know what services we offer, we could prevent more cases like the one that took place in Soledad."

Originally published Wednesday, July 7, 2004


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