June 30, 2023

The Heroes of Health Care

The city of Chicago is in a State of Emergency.

More than 10,500 asylum seekers have been transported to Chicago since August 31, 2022.

Southern border states like Texas are transporting asylees to sanctuary cities such as Chicago, with 10 busses arriving in 10 days this past month alone.

After a treacherous journey through dangerous climate and corrupt law enforcement throughout Central America, migrants have endured months-long passages to safety… and this is just the beginning.

With limited shelter space for asylum seekers to begin immigration processes and receive permanent housing, asylees have been sleeping on floors of police precincts since May.

If they have not yet secured work, migrants spend their days at the precincts outside in the sun until evening curfew, with their children playing on the sidewalks next to busy streets.

Although there are no reports of disease or pests, many present health concerns from the life-threatening migration and the uncomfortable living conditions at the precincts.

Some of these health concerns relate to braces that have not been tightened in 6 months, blurry vision from glasses lost to border patrol, or injuries from falling off of trains.

CommunityHealth takes to street medicine.

CommunityHealth has provided over 11 mobile clinics at precincts across the city, offering free health assessments with point-of-care testing, over the counter medication administration, and resource referrals.

In collaboration with community partners like Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Mutual Aid responders, CommunityHealth is providing more than just health care but toiletry care packages, prescription medication deliveries, and new patient registrations.

Volunteer services has prioritized Spanish-speaking providers, as a majority of the migrants have fled the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

However, the Health Education team also supports every mobile clinic and each member holds a special connection to our new neighbors, beyond speaking the same language.

Asylum seekers smile for the first time in months when they learn that Daniela, Zeneida, and Daniel have lived similar stories and succeeded despite the obstacles.

Meet Daniela Acacio.

As the Health Education and Outreach Manager, Daniela (she/her/ella) staffs her team with people who represent the communities we serve, people our patients can relate to.

Having emigrated from Venezuela herself, she organizes workshops, develops resources, and collaborates with community partners to “connect others in a way that [her] family needed in the past.”

On top of regular responsibilities, her team now focuses efforts on registering patients, interpreting, and resource-mapping at the mobile clinics. However, she notes that her team builds community through personal relationships like this all the time, “crisis or not.”

“In a lot of ways, our lives are very different, but we can still connect on that human level. We feel at home with each other.”

“Always bringing it back to our shared humanity,” Daniela explains that her team specializes in “making people feel human again during a very unhuman experience of survival.”

Daniela understands that access to free, quality health care can be life-saving, as she witnessed with her own grandmother.

Hilaria Celina Márquez (12/3/1939 – 11/15/2022) was a proud Venezuelan who found asylum in the United States.

However, when she got sick during the pandemic, critical health treatments proved unaffordable here.

She received care in Columbia where it was accessible until her passing.

Daniela notes that “if CommunityHealth would have been available to her, she would have had access to doctors and medications without the stress of having to pay for it.”

“Access to health care would have alleviated the pressure and if she knew this was out there for someone like her, it would have helped her so much.”

When asylum seekers learn that Daniela and her family also emigrated from Venezuela, they are more at ease to not only share their health concerns but also register as a patient for follow-up appointments.

“The beauty of the outreach team is their ability to connect with perspective patients in a way that is very interpersonal, feels safe, and is comforting. It has been so rewarding to connect with people and provide a sense of comfortability through what is often a period of uncertainty. I am proud of the efforts that the outreach team has put into not only connecting new patients to care but also valuing and providing a very human experience that gives perspective patients a lens into CommunityHealth’s vision that is based on a profound sense of community.”

Daniela Acacio

Health Education and Outreach Manager

Meet Zeneida Urena.

Originally an accountant from Ecuador, Zeneida (she/her/ella) now serves a Community Health Worker as she continues her education with the City Colleges of Chicago at the Arturo Velasquez Institute (AVI).

Zeneida began serving as a phlebotomist with CommunityHealth in 2009, until cherished volunteer Sara Villanueva encouraged her to join the Health Education team.

Are You All In?

Join us for the Celebration of the 2023 All In event series as we honor Illinois State Senator Celina Villanueva with the Sara Villanueva Public Service Award!

Many people from Zeneida’s country travel so far by foot just for freedom, as she explains that many of the migrants maintain proper education but still cannot support their families even with multiple jobs in their native countries.

Zeneida’s own journey to liberation comforts migrants as she reminds them that “everything is hard at the beginning but, in time, all of their dreams will come true.”

“We may be from different countries but we are the same. I am helping my people. I am helping my community.”

She leads with compassion and respect in her patient care, sharing that women in her Bienestar de Mujeres workshops feel safe with her to “open their hearts and let it all go.”

As a health care professional coming from the communities she serves, Zeneida recognizes that ‘CommunityHealth is family. CommunityHealth is home. Migrants will not be afraid to share what they feel and experience.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity to change their circumstances so they can have a good, safe life. “

Zeneida Urena

Community Health Worker

Meet Daniel Espinoza.

“Leading with empathy,” Daniel (he/him/él) prioritizes “respect and empathy” in his support at the mobile clinics, truly embodying his role as a Community Health Worker.

As an engineer from Mexico who “started in the same way,” he understands that “you start from zero, but in the long run you will make it and you will be able to provide for your family.”

Daniel “knows what to do and how to help,” collecting questions at the precincts and then networking with other organizations to resource map for services beyond CommunityHealth’s focus. He even is collaboration with his personal church to provide opportunities for asylees to build a full life in Chicago.

“I understand them. I see them. We are here for them and we are here for them for free.”

As a father himself, Daniel notes that it is emotional for him when he sees children at the precincts, for example, living with Diabetes but no current access to insulin.

He emphasizes that the asylum seekers “are being portrayed as if they are bringing drugs and diseases, but these people are lawyers, doctors, accountants with children and families.”

He urges the public to recognize that they have survived not only extraordinary circumstances of political instability, gang violence, and climate crises but also a journey of over 30,000 miles.

He highlights that “this is temporary for the migrants. They just need a little bit of help to get a good start to work and have better lives.”

“It is especially hard for me to see the kids in these crises, but this is an opportunity to find a way to help families in need, to provide people with the help they need and deserve.”

Daniel Espinoza

Community Health Worker

Real people serving real people.

CommunityHealth welcomes our new neighbors to Chicago and is honored to serve them with health care professionals that proudly represent their communities, with services in their native languages.

America is a country that has been formed through immigrants from many nations, a land stolen from first nation peoples.

As More than a Free Clinic, we unite with asylum seekers and allies alike to celebrate different identities, different stories, and different journeys to successs.

Regardless of who you are or where you have come from, Quality Health Care for All is your human right.