Like most undocumented immigrants, Jesús Vera does not have health insurance. Like many low-income workers, he suffers from diabetes. And like far too many uninsured people, he had to pay $100 cash each time he visited a clinic, returning multiple times for various tests and losing a day’s work each time. It was unendurable.
Then Jesús found PACH.
PACH (Phoenix Allies for Community Health) is a volunteer-led nonprofit that provides free health care to the uninsured: undocumented immigrants, refugees and the working poor. The west Phoenix clinic sees around 30 to 40 patients a week, and its bilingual volunteer nurses and physician assistants also conduct numerous house calls.
“[PACH] has helped me a lot,” Jesús says through a translator, “because I didn’t know I was a diabetic, and now I’m taking medicines for it, and it’s very expensive… Here I’m not paying anything. So if I have money I give a donation.”
Even on a tight budget, PACH’s level of care far exceeds that of the average public health clinic – and even the average upscale private physician’s office.
PACH’s staff frequently spend an hour with a patient, addressing all their physical and emotional needs. “There are layers and layers of challenges that our undocumented neighbors face,” says co-founder and registered nurse Jason Odhner. “If someone has a deportation hearing coming up, or they’ve been exploited by an unscrupulous employer who never paid them for their last three weeks of work, or they’re subject to sexual harassment at work and they’re afraid to speak out… The idea that we can just throw pills at that and make them healthy is absurd. They need and deserve a very complex level of comprehensive care.”
So PACH emphasizes holistic care, including naturopathy and acupuncture. They have a life coach/hypnotherapist/reiki practitioner and a woman who conducts sound-healing sessions steeped in native traditions. “The patients love them,” Odhner says. “They’re both native Spanish speakers [so] they’re a lot more sensitive and culturally competent on these complex issues than other people would be. ”
In addition, PACH educates patients and the community on health issues such as diabetes. The clinic also offers tests like EKGs and blood work onsite, saving patients like Jesús from having to take time off work to go to separate facilities.
“The most important thing for us is to prove that it’s possible to provide exceptionally high standards of care even to patients who face a lot of barriers.”
PACH understands the immigrant community’s needs because it grew out of the immigrant rights movement. The founders were originally street medics providing medical support at rallies such as the SB 1070 protests.
“Through that work, we realized there was a really critical need for helping this population,” Odhner says.
Uninsured and undocumented people, he explains, often put off seeing s doctor because they don’t have money, are afraid of deportation, and feel daunted by the language barrier. That means uninsured people with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol typically worsen until they’re forced to rush to an ER with a heart attack, stroke, or other potentially deadly condition.
PACH enables uninsured people to get treated early and inexpensively, helping prevent severe problems in the future. That greatly benefits the patients and their families, and it saves hospitals millions of dollars.
But for PACH volunteers, their patients’ well-being is their primary purpose. “The most important thing for us is to prove that it’s possible to provide exceptionally high standards of care even to patients who face a lot of barriers,” Odhner says. “We have a moral duty as a society to provide good-quality primary care for our neighbors.”
To learn more about seeking care, volunteering, or donating to PACH, please visit their website.