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2018 Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities

2018 Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities

April 19, 2018
On Saturday, April 14th, in what seemed to be a precursor to the Boston Marathon, members of the Immigrant Healthcare Access Coalition (IHAC) steering committee completed their own long distance event – they ran the 2018 Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities. This training was part of a coordinated, on-going effort to inform immigrants and the groups that serve them about their health care rights. The training also aimed to dispel the growing fear and mistrust within immigrant communities that is preventing many individuals and families from seeking the health care services they need - when they need them. 

A panoramic look at the 2018 Democracy School in action!

Staff members from Health Care For All (HCFA), Health Law Advocates (HLA), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) spent six months meeting one-on-one with individuals and organizations in the Greater Boston area to discuss the challenges to health care access that are facing immigrant communities and to anticipate  additional challenges coming in the near future.

(L-R) Sally Strniste, HCFA’s Chief of Staff, and Maria R. Gonzalez Albuixech smiling for the start of the training!

Robust recruitment efforts led to the participation of more than 65 health care providers, community based organizations, and individual consumers. Having had a goal of 15-20 attendees, the event’s organizers were thrilled that so many committed advocates and volunteers came together to learn about the immigration rules and regulations that are critical to health care access for the communities they serve.  High turnout at the training confirmed that there is a need for clear information and individual outreach within local communities that are made up of or serve large numbers of immigrants and their families.

By the time April 14th showed up on the calendar, everyone who helped plan the “Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities” was eager to implement the training that took place at “La Alianza Hispana” located on Massachusetts Avenue.

(L-R) Suzanne Curry, Hannah Frigand, and Yaquelin Cordon, HCFA staff members and event volunteers, getting ready to receive the participants.

Maria R. González Albuixech, HCFA’s Director of Strategy and Communications, and Deolinda Daveiga, HCFA’s Outreach and IHAP Coordinator, opened the training in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Language capacity is a critical piece of the training and the project and all resources were made available in three languages so that attendees could benefit as much as possible from the presentations by following along in the language that was most comfortable for them.

Maria R. González Albuixech and Deolinda Daveiga, both of HCFA, deliver the opening remarks to a packed room

The programming for the rest of the training included a number of presentations from project partners. Liza Ryan, of MIRA, gave a brief overview of changing immigration policy at the federal level. She emphasized the importance of being knowledgeable but also calm during these tense times.

Liza Ryan, of MIRA, delivers the first PowerPoint presentation of the day about federal immigration changes

Following this federal update, Andrew Cohen, the chair of the Immigrant Health Care Access Coalition (IHAC) and an attorney at HLA, focused his presentation on the specific health care protections that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have under the law. Despite the shifting political landscape, Andrew’s powerful presentation described the changes that are on the horizon and laws that will remain intact in the immediate future.

Andrew Cohen, of HLA, answers questions after his presentation at Democracy School 2018

An essential part of HCFA’s ongoing work is to ensure  that consumers have access to health care services. Hannah Frigand, HCFA’s Associate Director of the HelpLine, Enrollment, and Education gave a robust presentation on eligibility and a description of current insurance benefits in Massachusetts. In addition to Hannah’s presentation, Alexis Major, HCFA’s Oral Health Organizer, spoke about the significance of oral health and how health care advocates can work to get this important benefit reinstated onto MassHealth plans.

Deolinda Daveiga smiles while a presentation is delivered about gaining access to health care in Massachusetts

Sarang Sekhavat, of MIRA, gave a most anticipated presentation regarding proposed changes to the regulations known as ‘public charge’.  A person who is deemed a public charge may not be able to adjust immigration status or file a family petition.  Sarang explained the process for collecting public comments on the subject to oppose these efforts once the draft changes that have been leaked are officially published on the Federal Register.

Sarang Sekhavat, of MIRA, discusses public charge changes that are on the way.

For the final presentation of the day, Edgar Corona, a Harvard fellow working with MIRA, displayed the Immigrant Health Toolkit, a unique resource designed for providers and health care and immigration advocates alike. The Toolkit, constantly updated with the latest information available about health care access, was created by Edgar using a dynamic web platform. While The Democracy School was a great launching point, the Immigrant Health Toolkit offers a continuous, real-time way to continue sharing resources during this challenging time.  

In an effort to foster networking and relationship building, as well as to answer lingering questions, break out groups were created based upon preferred language. Each group had a facilitator and many questions revolved around “How can I, along with my network, get further involved in this fight?”

The Spanish language breakout group conversing during the final stretch of The Democracy School!

 This first training is just the beginning of an intersectional commitment to bringing all stakeholders together in efforts to protect and defend the health care rights of immigrant populations in Massachusetts. This project would not be possible without the generous support from the Herman & Frieda L. Miller Foundation, Jane’s Trust and Health Care For All’s many individual donors and supporters.

-Davis Jackson