Being an undocumented immigrant nearly cost Mery Martinez her life. Martinez, 38, was recently diagnosed with leukemia, but because she lacked legal status — and health insurance — she was unable to find consistent treatment to fight the disease. That is, until she relocated from New York to Philadelphia and visited Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit clinic run by volunteer doctors, nurses and med school students. Puentas de Salud, or “bridges of healing”, was created in 2006 for the sole purpose of providing health care to the area’s low-income, undocumented, and uninsured Latino community, Dr. Steve Larson, one of the organization’s cofounders, told the New York Times. The group also pinpoints social determinants of health in the community and focuses on prevention as much as treatment. “It’s not about me writing prescriptions,” Dr. Larson says. “This is an underground health system.”
So far, Puentes de Salud, which operates only two evenings a week, has treated about 3,300 patients. Initial visits to the clinic cost $20. Each follow-up visit costs $10. Since the Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide assistance to illegal immigrants, and this group is generally ineligible for Medicaid, people like Martinez are often forced to either forego medical care or take advantage of inexpensive or free clinics like Puentes de Salud. With a growing need for such operations, Dr. Larson is seeking funding to open a 7,000-square-foot clinic devoted to medical services and health education, so even more immigrants like Martinez can take control of their care.
MORE: Health Reform’s Next Crucial Step: Winning Immigrants’ Trust