It is one thing to type away at your keyboard expressing your opinions across the Internet on the ills (or benefits) that undocumented immigrants bring to the United States, but it is another thing to put a human face – or, even a name – to these individuals and their struggles. Clínica de Migrantes, a documentary recently released by HBO, brings you the stories of undocumented immigrants who, left with little to no healthcare options, seek out help in a Philadelphia-based clinic staffed with a group of noble medical professionals who take on the massive responsibility of caring for this disenfranchised community.
Dr. Steven Larson, executive director and co-founder of Puentes de Salud, located at 1700 South Street in Philadelphia, Pa., told ‘LLERO that the work he does today with this community was his initial reasoning for pursuing a career in medicine.
“I just had this sense that [medicine] was about working with the community, working with people, and trying to make them healthy and well,” Dr. Larson said. “Mid-way through my medical education I took a year off and traveled and did some work with the Indian Health Service. Exploring new communities and figuring out solutions became a challenge, and it just captured my curiosity and filled my need to do something,” he added.
It was this work that prepared Dr. Larson and Puentes de Salud co-founder, Dr. Jack Ludmir, for the challenge of starting a fully functional clinic to care for the undocumented population of Philadelphia.
“I tell all of the people that I’ve worked with over the years that nothing in this world is free – light switches turning on lights, running water, physical space, staff to supply a clinic in terms of clerks and office managers, nurses, nurse practitioners – it all requires, at a certain point to be really effective, a certain core of individuals that are salaried and full-time,” Dr. Larson explained, adding, “Now, it’s about going after that funding, because we don’t take federal dollars nor do we take state dollars. We reach out to concerned individuals and compassionate community members, and people who have skills or resources or both.”
Fortunately, Puentes de Salud attracts dozens of volunteers, some of whom are med students, who, aside from looking for internships to further their budding careers, also simply want to help this community. Dr. Daphne Owen began as a medical intern at Puentes de Salud, and later decided to stay on as a staffer after becoming a doctor.
“I first got involved [with Puentes de Salud] when I first moved to Philadelphia from California. I, actually, studied Sociology in college, and I moved to Philadelphia to get things together to apply to medical school,” Dr. Owen told ‘LLERO. “I really wanted to incorporate ideas about social determinants of health into my thinking about medicine, and I heard about Puentes de Salud, and I was really interested and got involved.”
Read on to see how the work of Puentes de Salud inspired the documentary.