El Centro de Corazón: On a mission to provide access to healthcare
The young Hispanic woman felt lost, unable to resolve the many issues she was facing. Then, 16 months ago, she walked into a therapy session at El Centro de Corazón. There, she found direction, support and inspiration in a safe environment.
“Had it not been for my therapist, I wouldn’t be here today,” said the woman, who isn’t being identified for confidentiality reasons.
She was one of 8,320 patients helped with medical or mental services last year at the health center – 63 percent of whom were below 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines, and 95 percent of adult patients are uninsured.
“My life has changed for the better, and I feel I can face each day with the help of my therapist and with her professional advice and support," the woman said.
El Centro de Corazón was founded in 1994 as a community-based social-service organization for families in Houston’s East End. At the time, East End residents were looking for agencies that did more than give out food or help with utilities, said founder and CEO Mary Jo May. They needed an agency that addressed the issues families were dealing with, particularly violence and truancy. The parent-teach classes, support groups and after-school programs helped do that.
“There are people who are in a certain situation all the time, and it’s normal to them, and sometimes they don’t realize that that is not the norm,” May said.
Initially focused on providing support services for women and children, it added mental-health services two years later. In 2003, seeing local health clinics leaving the area, it became a Federally Qualified Health Center providing primary care, pediatric, prenatal, mental health and dental services on a sliding-fee scale.
“We’re here to service the community,” said Marcie Mir, a licensed clinical social worker and El Centro’s chief development officer. “And as such, we’re constantly looking at services we need to provide and where we need to provide them.”
With Houston ranked third in the nation among cities with the most uninsured residents, El Centro provides an important service in an area of high need, May said. They expect to serve more than 10,000 patients this year.
“There are so many things you look at and ask, ‘How is this OK?’” she said. “How is it OK that people can’t get good health care? How is it OK that people can’t get needed mental health services? I don’t think that’s asked often enough.”
May went beyond asking those questions. She set out to specifically address them.
“Nationwide, people with mental health problems die, on average, 25 years younger than people without,” May said. “That’s not directly because of the mental health, but because those people don’t seek out the services they need and because the system’s not set up to help them.”
May wanted to address that but, first, El Centro had to not only make mental-health services accessible, it also had to remove the stigma attached to seeking out those services. After successfully doing that, the clinic noticed the dearth of medical providers in the East End in 2003. So, the organization merged with Eastwood Health Clinic and stepped in to provide medical services.
“When you look at unmet medical needs, it’s dramatic,” May said. “The numbers are dramatic, and the lack of understanding that not everybody has access is also dramatic.”
By locating all these services together at four locations, El Centro provides convenience, letting patients get all their services in one day, at one location. Services are offered at Eastwood Health Center, John S. Dunn Health Center, Magnolia Health Center and Southeast Health Center.
“There are a lot of barriers to low-income people receiving access to quality health care,” and they wanted to knock those barriers down, Mir said.
One of the barriers is the lack of clinics.Gulfgate Health Center had to turn away 22,000 possible appointments last year. Another barrier is the price of services – and 87 percent of the community is uninsured – and another is the language – 90 percent of East End residents are Hispanic, and most speak Spanish, Mir said.
Most of the staff – about 85 strong, including doctors, nurses and administrative employees – speak Spanish. In attendance at every appointment is someone who speaks Spanish.
Although more than 90 percent of their patients are low-income, the services El Centro de Corazón provides are anything but low-quality. It strives for the highest standards and to become the provider of choice for not just East Enders, but for anyone seeking quality medical care, Mir said. The organization is working with Cigna and BlueCross BlueShield to become a covered provider.
Its model is working; it already sees patients from 137 different zip codes, from as far away as Conroe to Katy to Rosenberg. Its primary care for adults is full to capacity, and mental health services has a waiting list. Services aren’t free; patients bring documentation showing how much they make and how many people live in their home. Based on that, they pay according to a fee scale set by the organization’s board.
However, if someone shows up and can’t pay his bill, he is not turned away. The balance is carried forward.
Two community health outreach coordinators are present in the community and bring healthy habits to children in school. That’s part of taking care of the community – prevention.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center, El Centro receives an annual federal grant based on the number of patients, number of uninsured patients seen, scope of the practice and the number of services provided. It also receives Medicaid and Medicare payments, grants, payments from patients and funding from supporters. Even with that, the adult-care services arm loses about $1 million a year. Many of its patents are undocumented immigrants, and the center can’t get Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements for those patients.
“But the point is to provide the necessary and high-quality services to everyone who needs it but doesn’t have access to it,” May said. “People make the decision every day whether to put the food on the table or get the health care they need.”
El Centro de Corazón is working hard to make that no longer a choice.
Dave Schafer is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.
Texas Diversity Council to present Women in Leadership Symposium
The Gulf Coast Women in Leadership Symposium will be held Thursday, March 7, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at the Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight Road. The big event is being sponsored by the Texas Diversity Council.
Paula McHam, director of client and community affairs at Cigna, will serve as moderator for a lively panel discussion about “Women of Influence: Leading with Courage and Conviction.”
Panelists include Roberta Levy Schwartz, executive vice president, The Methodist Hospital System; Terry Morales, vice president, commercial lending, Amegy Bank; Spring Williams, general manager, Gulf Coast District, UPS; Cynthia Johnson, director, information technology infrastructure services, Occidental Petroleum Corporation; Chow Yu, vice president, internal audit services, Waste Management, Inc.; and Shemin V. Proctor, partner, Andrews Kurth, LLP.
Topics to be discussed include the following:
• Letting go of Preconceived Barriers and Fear,
• Supporting One Another in Both Directions,
• Leveraging Power in the Workplace,
• Changing the Role of Women in Corporate America,
• Doing Business in Heels: Making the Workplace a Place of Our Own,
• Looking Ahead: Leaders of the Next Generation.
Individual tickets are $79, and sponsorships start at $500.
Why is this type of symposium important? Why should companies send their employees? For the answers, this reporter asked Event Chair Shirley Kwan, vice president, commercial and business banking portfolio group manager at Amegy Bank.
She said, “Companies and organizations across the board should be prepared to offer their current and future female leaders different vehicles for achieving success. The Women in Leadership Symposium has successfully proven to be a catapult in which women of all ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences share their stories of success, learn new ways to lead and understand the important of helping shape the next female leaders.
“The symposium is a great investment for companies and their employees. The participants learn from executive women, connect and network in this half-day forum and, if necessary, return to work and quickly apply the lessons learned.”
When asked why Amegy Bank likes being part of this particular event, Kwan said, “The professionalism of the panelists and the attendees is outstanding. Amegy has a Women’s Initiative to promote female leaders internally, as well as with female clients. We also hold a strong vision for the next generation of female leaders. This symposium reserves a portion of registration free to college students.”
Gloria Steinem to speak at annual event of Women's Resource of Greater Houston
Gloria Steinem will be the featured speaker at The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston’s 22nd Annual Luncheon. The event will be held Tuesday, April 30 at the JW Marriott from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Steinem will discuss the progression of feminism and advancing the rights of all women. An audience question-and-answer session will follow.
Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor and feminist activist. She travels across the nation and to other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolutions, the cultures of indigenous peoples and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice.
Steinem returns to Houston, a city that is a landmark in the history of the feminist movement. In the essay, “Houston and History,” from her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem said, “For myself, Houston and the events surrounding it have become a landmark in personal history...Figuring out the date of any other event now means remembering: Was it before or after Houston?”
In 1972, she co-founded Ms. magazine and remained one of its editor for 15 years. She continues to serve as a consulting editor for Ms., and was instrumental in the magazine’s move to join and be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation. In 1968, she had helped to found New York magazine, where she was a political columnist.
Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words and Marilyn: Norma Jean, on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
In 1993, Steinem’s concern with child abuse led her to co-produce and narrate an Emmy Award-winning TV documentary for HBO, Multiple Personalist: The Search for Deadly Memories.
Steinem lives in New York City and is currently at work on Road to the Heart: America As If Everyone Mattered, a book about her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer. The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston was founded in 1990 to provide free financial education and research so that women and girls have the knowledge they need to make sound financial decisions and improve their lives. To obtain more information about the upcoming event and/ or to purchase tickets, visit www.thewomensresource.org.
UHD professor embodies mission of mentoring
The mission of National Mentoring Month, celebrated in January, is embodied in Dawn McCarty, Ph.D., LMSW, an associate professor of social work at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD).
In addition to teaching her undergraduate students the importance of advocating for those less fortunate, she has chosen to make her home with the city’s poorest and most disadvantaged. Each week, she spends three to four nights in her 500-square-foot apartment at Casa Juan Diego, a house of hospitality for disadvantaged women and the rest of the week at the house she shares with her husband in Galveston.
“I subscribe to the Catholic Worker model that you really can’t know the specific needs of a population unless you live side-by-side with them,” said McCarty. “Living with these women is a joy and honor and is in no way a sacrifice for me.”
When McCarty first began working with the women’s home of Casa Juan Diego, she thought she would live with the community for three months to provide support and serve as an example for her social work students. But, three months turned into four years, and she has never looked back.
In addition to eating her meals with the guests, she weaves herself intricately into their lives, helping them attain legal documents, file police reports, gain government assistance and work with Child Protective Services. She also works with the Houston Food Bank and Harris County Hospital District to arrange appointments for the residents. Many women in the shelter are undocumented immigrants, victims of human trafficking, pregnant or mentally or physically battered. Other women have left their families in Mexico and Central America, traveled to the U.S. with their children and remained after their husbands were deported.
Casa Juan Diego provides a free medical clinic for the community, language classes and food and clothing centers that serve 300 people each week. All full-time staff live in the community and donate their services to the approximately 21 women and children who reside in the shelter.
“By living at Casa Juan Diego, I’m able to offer a unique perspective of service to my social work students,” said McCarty. “They’re able to see the ‘real world’ of their chosen careers and witness my failures, as well as my successes. Many of our students also volunteer at the shelter, providing an excellent high- impact, service-learning opportunity to complement their classroom learning,” said McCarty.
“I wouldn’t teach anywhere but UHD,” said McCarty. “Because of our university’s diversity and urban nature, our students aren’t afraid of tackling tough economic challenges, and they embrace change as a way of life.”