With buses full of asylum seekers and families arriving in Chicago from Texas, local organizations like VNA Health Care have stepped up to provide care and comfort over the past few weeks.
The patient-centered nonprofit provider that serves more patients in suburban Chicago than any other community health center in the area, was recently approached by the DuPage County Health Department and the DuPage Health Coalition to take his mobile van to Burr Ridge, where 64 migrant families from Venezuela were placed in a hotel on September 7.
On September 9, a five-person team saw 14 patients in VNA’s mobile care van and another 20 throughout the week in Burr Ridge. And on Friday, VNA treated about 40 more people through the van as well as during follow-up appointments at its clinic in Bolingbrook, CEO Linnea Windel said.
“Our mission, our purpose is to provide care to everyone who needs it,” Windel said Friday. “No matter how long they’ve been in this country, no matter their immigration status – they’ve had a very difficult journey to get here in hopes of a better life.”
The dozens of migrants seen by VNA arrived in Chicago on August 31 with a group of 150 others in three buses that Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent to Chicago to criticize the country’s immigration policies and its promise to send asylum seekers to sanctuary cities.
Before being temporarily brought to the Hampton Inn & Suites in the southwest suburbs, the families and individuals were at a shelter in Chicago’s Humboldt Park.
VNA nurse practitioner Stephanie Schuster said the most common problems among patients were skin infections and respiratory problems, affecting all age groups.
As part of an individualized care plan, Schuster and the nurse practitioner team assessed patients based on their medical history, educated them on symptom management, and prepared them to enroll for future follow-up appointment at one of 16 VNA locations around Chicagoland. , including Bensenville, Carol Stream and Aurora.
Schuster said she was “pleasantly surprised” to learn that most migrant families were up to date on vaccinations and preventive health care.
“They’re trying to downplay what they went through — at least for me, because for them it was worth coming here and having these resources,” Schuster said.
The organization has a large number of Spanish-speaking bilingual nurses, doctors, medical assistants and registration staff, Windel added. “We are absolutely equipped to communicate effectively with people,” she said.
Because it is a federally licensed community health center, VNA welcomes anyone, regardless of insurance or economic status.
“If someone is unable to pay, they will always be seen,” Windel said. “Payment is not an obstacle.”
Schuster explained that the organization’s approach is not just about traditional health care in the sense of screening for “diabetes and hypertension,” but about looking at the patient as a whole and providing them with a dentist or ophthalmologist. The “one-stop shop” frees these migrant families from having to navigate a healthcare system of specialist referrals and copays, she said.
The migrants who arrived in Burr Ridge were in the custody of the Illinois Department of Social Services and were transferred to Cook County on Sunday, according to Mayor Gary Grasso. He said the village received a courtesy call from the DuPage County Board of Health about a possible move.
Organizers from the National Immigrant Justice Center recently told the Tribune that they have been meeting with migrants since their arrival to begin helping them from a legal standpoint. The first step is usually to explain to each person what documents they were given at the border and to give everyone a brief overview of possible next steps, including transitioning to permanent housing.
Windel said that for his organization, the priority is access to care. And when the DuPage Health Coalition and the DuPage County Health Department connected VNA with migrants, Windel said the first thing to do was to treat urgent medical conditions.
Migrant families and individuals will still be able to access VNA even if they have moved, and the clinics will continue to welcome them, the organization said.
Schuster said the key allowed them to have a safe space.
“I’ve heard different stories about their journeys to get here — certain months, certain years,” Schuster said. “I can tell you that a lot of them are just happy to be here.”
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