More than 60 South Merced residents came with leaders from the Merced Organizing Project’s “Prevention Action Team” to a Town Hall meeting at Tenaya Middle School organized by Merced County District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo.
Members of the group — working in partnership with Building Healthy Communities — made a call for health care among the district’s undocumented and uninsured residents.
Sitting on a panel with Supervisor Pedrozo were representatives from the offices of State Assembly member Adam Gray, State Senator Anthony Cannella, and Congressman Jim Costa.
“Merced County is 1 of only 10 counties in California that does not provide insurance to undocumented adults,” said Chrissy Gallardo, a community organizer for the Prevention Action Team. Gallardo said she has seen the impact that a lack of health insurance can have on a working family, noting that her father became disabled and is “one of the 25,000 undocumented and uninsured” that reside and work inside of the state of California.
“Even close to here in Fresno,” she said, “they have programs that extend health care to undocumented workers. We are celebrating that undocumented children will now have access to that health care as of May 1, but now we want to focus on making sure that the adults taking care of them have access to health care as well.”
She went on to say that it is very common for families to delay or forgo finding care for themselves or children due to fear that they will have their immigration status called into question, resulting in many having nowhere to go for anything ranging from a common cold to serious disabilities.
Many of those who spoke shared personal details about the struggle they feel between wanting to improve the community of Merced, and their inability to find help from the same place they are growing their family.
“Supervisor Pedrozo, I am here to have you hear me, and so I can hear from you,” said one woman, apparently an “undocumented” resident. “I have lived and worked here in Merced for a long time, for 30 years, and I don’t have access to any healthcare. I have had two surgeries on my arm, and sometimes people tell me that programs like Medi-Cal would help me, but that’s not true. I would have to become more ill, really ill, in order for them to help at all.”
She said she is unsure how long she will continue to be able to pay for follow-up healthcare out of pocket.
“You don’t know what it’s like to live from day to day for pay, not knowing how you will pay for the medications, but knowing if you can’t, you will be unable to work as well,” she said. “I ask you to please help and speak up for people like us because we need your help, your assistance, because there are so many of us who are working out there. We leave our families at home, and if we cannot work, we go without food.”
Perhaps most striking was a story and plea for help relayed to the panel by Lupe Delgado, a former Patient Representative for Livingston Community Health.
“A 45-year-old woman came to me when I worked with Livingston Community Health and it breaks my heart that I had her tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer twice,” said a teary-eyed Delgado.
She continued, explaining that while patients will receive up to a year and a half of treatment from the community facility after receiving their first diagnosis of breast cancer, additional diagnoses are often met with limited and inadequate services as Medi-Cal becomes further restrictive, often placing the patient in a dire situation as problems begin to compound.
“Mr. Pedrozo, you’re here, and you are the light for these people, and I thank those of you who voted for Medi-Cal for our children, but our job is not done,” Delgado said. “These community members are asking you to be our champion and make a historic change for Merced County. So I am asking you, close your eyes and picture that 45-year-old and imagine it is your mother, or your daughter, or a family member, and tell me that you would not then support something like this.”
Supervisor Pedrozo spoke about his work to create a bridge between his position and other local representatives to find a solution at the state level that will help extend coverage past undocumented children and to their families as well.
“When I talk to other colleagues of mine, either at the state or federal level, we can give voice just as you can give voice,” Pedrozo reassured. “We have to make sure that what they hear is loud and clear in both Sacramento and Washington because that is how this has to be done.”
Ryan Heller, a representative for Assemblyman Gray, noted that healthcare is a fundamental right, and that it will be treated as such as the new legislative session gets underway in Sacramento. “You spoke in one voice tonight, and we have heard you loud and clear,” Heller said.
State Senator Anthony Cannella’s office echoed this sentiment, noting that Senator Cannella voted for the extension of Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children in the previous legislative session, and has plans to work together with fellow representatives on bills to extend coverage to everyone.
Congressman Costa’s office weighed in saying that while it is more difficult for a solution to be formulated and passed at the federal level, bills such as the new “Exchange Inclusion for a Healthy America Act of 2015” are being introduced to help fill these gaps in coverage.
Also in attendance during the Town Hall Meeting was Director of Public Health Kathleen Grassi, who took the time to address some of the concerns.
“Merced is somewhat lucky in that we do have some organizations and health centers who help those who do not have health insurance and are in need,” she said.
But Grassi added, “There are a significant number of adults who still do not have health coverage as of today, and what we are doing is working in Sacramento to determine opportunities for Medi-Cal to cover the population.”
Currently a Health Consortium Meeting is planned for April 28, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Public Health Department. Health care partners from the Merced County area are expected to discuss what options are available to those who are in need. Members of the public are invited to attend.