Health Fair Attracts Inland Empire's Uninsured

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following video shares the experiences of attendees at the WeConnect health and resource fair held in Riverside, California on March 2, 2013. The fair was an opportunity for area residents to access critical services and learn about new benefits available under the Affordable Care Act. Interviews feature a young woman who just found out she qualified for health care, a resident who can now get medical services for his diabetes and dental needs, and a father who previously had to go to Tijuana for medical services. Also interviewed are the nursing students who assisted people at the event. The video was produced by
Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community media organization based in San Jose.  The accompanying article was reported by Coachella Unincorporated, a youth-led media project based in the Eastern Coachella Valley in Riverside County.  Both media outlets are projects of New America Media, a grantee of The California Endowment.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Anna Calderon and her daughter live with the fear that their family's history of diabetes and high blood pressure will soon catch up with them. Myra, 16, already has high cholesterol, but the family's lack of insurance has prevented her from seeking treatment.

The mother and daughter were among the hundreds of uninsured Inland Empire residents who attended a health and resource fair at Rubidoux High School in this city on March 2. The event, dubbed the WEConnect Health Care Enrollment and Resource Fair, is financed by The California Endowment (TCE), a private health foundation.

Calderon, 35,was able to sign up for low-income healthcare at the fair, and was directed to a local clinic that can treat her daughter and give them both access to affordable prescription medications.

WeConnect was established in 2005 by former California first lady Maria Shriver to reach uninsured Californians who are eligible for public health programs such as Medi-Cal. The healthy-living campaign provides families and individuals from underserved communities with access to the resources needed to lead healthier and financially secure lives.

Miriam Lopez, 30, attended the WeConnect fair to have her family’s vision and dental health checked.

“It is very good that they provide services for the community, so that all families can benefit,” said Lopez, an uninsured mother of two.

One service kiosk at the event, called the “WEb Connector” station, provided free health insurance eligibility screenings for attendees.

Volunteers in bright green “Health Happens Here” t-shirts, mainly students from University of California at Riverside and local high school students, assisted attendees throughout the daylong event. They helped with applications for a variety of public programs such as Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, CalFresh and the Women, Infants and Children's program (WIC).

West Coast University also joined in the efforts, pitching in at the health screening stations with approximately 70 senior-level nursing students. Dayanna Macias Carlos, program associate for The California Endowment, said that WEConnect health resource fairs have now been integrated into the West Coast University nursing curriculum.

“This is where we need to be,” said Gloria Huerta, dean of nursing at West Coast University. “There hasn’t been the opportunity on a community level or even the foresight before to say, ‘What can we do for all of us, what can we share?’ The time for being in a silo is over.”

“This is an integral part in the whole overhaul of the health care system, because too many times nurses… focus on treating [patients] for a disease. We need to go beyond that… we need to treat them before they get the disease,” said Huerta. “When these families walk out the door, they have resources in their hands. They are leaving here armed with information, and that is powerful.”

Free tax preparation was an added incentive for those who earned $51,000 or less in 2012.

“Pretty positive, we actually made out a little better than if I would have done the taxes myself so I’m glad I came,” said Rogelio Macedo, 41, who attended with his family of six. His wife and four sons stood alongside, arms brimming with pamphlets and goodie bags filled with prevention information as they made their way to the health care enrollment station.

The crowds drawn by the WEConnect Health Care Enrollment and Resource Fairs – typically in the thousands -- demonstrate the widespread lack of health care throughout the state. Four other similar events over the next two months will also aim to increase enrollment in the health care programs rolled out under the 2010 landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA). TCE’s Health Happens Here campaign will continue to enroll thousands of Californians until the ACA is fully implemented on January 1, 2014.