Farmworker Families Learn About Medi-Cal’s Dental and Mental Health Care

LODI, Calif. – Many more kids in California’s Central Valley are now eligible for Medi-Cal because of the state’s Health Care for All Kids law – now the trick is to spread the word. For families from farmworker communities who have been largely excluded from health care, this is no easy task.

But recently, a group of moms from farmworker families, their children, and a handful of farmworkers themselves came to a California Human Development community convening in Lodi to learn about the benefits of the low-income health insurance program that their undocumented children now qualify for.

For them, it made all the difference when the convening’s speaker told them that she herself was undocumented.

Imelda Plascencia, a health policy outreach manager with the Los Angeles chapter of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, urged them to take advantage of the state-funded health care program for children that would pay for preventive care and routine medical visits, in addition to emergency care.

“I know the stress that comes from being undocumented because I am undocumented myself,” said Plascencia, who is from Mexico.

In May, some 170,000 of the state’s undocumented children became eligible for Medi-Cal, California’s version of a health care program for low-income people known as Medicaid in the rest of the nation. Since then, more than 1,500 children throughout San Joaquin County transitioned from having limited health care to comprehensive health care through the state’s Health Care For All Kids law. An additional 3,000 undocumented county children who were on the Kaiser Child Health program were moved into full-scope Medi-Cal, according to Dawn McLeish, a staff analyst with the San Joaquin Human Services.

“You should make sure your children take advantage of the dental and mental health care services Medi-Cal offers,” Plascencia told the meeting participants in Spanish. For many in the room, this is the sort of coverage they’ve never had before.

Now a trusted messenger, Plascencia also took the opportunity to deliver public health information. She told meeting participants that there was a high incidence of diabetes among Latino immigrants, both adults and children, which can lead to gum disease.

“Preventive dental care, which Medi-Cal provides, is very important,” she said.

She also brought up that for immigrant children who have experienced trauma – before, during and after crossing the border – it is not uncommon to have long-term behavioral health disorders. Early diagnosis is important, she said.

Making her way toward her car after the meeting ended, Plascencia was approached by some of the women attendees. They asked her if she could tell them where they could find dental and mental health care providers for their children because they hadn’t been able to.

“It was amazing how she had built trust in them,” said Maria Rosado, a regional manager with California Human Development. “They now seem eager to get information about mental health care services.”

She said she hoped Plascencia’s presentation would encourage those reluctant to enroll their children in full-scope Medi-Cal to do so.

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