The Immigrant Health Initiative: A Q&A with Guedy Arniella and Nedelka Sotelo
This month, the New York City Council renewed funding for the Immigrant Health Initiative, an Institute program that works to remove barriers to health care for the City’s immigrant and uninsured communities. Guedy Arniella and Nedelka Sotelo answered questions about the initiative and how the Institute is involved in promoting health equity for immigrants.
Note: this conversation has been edited for clarity.
Q: So the City Council has renewed funding for the Immigrant Health Initiative. Can you say more about what this means?
Guedy: This is the sixth year that the City Council has funded the Immigrant Health Initiative. We know that New York City is a hub for immigrants, but many are not eligible for health insurance, which means they don’t get preventative care like yearly physicals, vaccines, and women’s health care which leads to poor health outcomes.
Nedelka: So our goal is to offer high-quality ongoing healthcare to patients in our most vulnerable underserved communities.
Q: Tell me more about the program goals. How do you work to meet these unique healthcare needs?
Guedy: The first step is to see if the patient is eligible for insurance, which means one of our case managers will reach out and do an assessment. If the patient is not eligible for insurance, we can still help them get care, either at our free clinics or at our health centers. We may also be able to help connect them with other resources or programs. The more we can engage people in ongoing health care, the more we can catch conditions early and get better health outcomes.
Q: What are some of the things you do?
Nedelka: I do a lot of networking to partner with community organizations, public schools, and really any group that has trust in the community, across the five boroughs. I will share information or sometimes organize events where our providers will make special presentations. All of these events have been online since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we find that a lot of the information gets shared through word-of-mouth.
Guedy: Nedelka also tracks how people find us, and we’ve heard that people come from all over the city seeking our health services. We are also tracking Covid-19 vaccination status and talk with people about why it’s important to get the vaccine. However, one thing we don’t ever do is ask about immigration status. We want people to feel safe.
Nedelka: Yes, I have to be very careful how I ask people for information, and how I tell them that a case manager will be reaching out to speak with them. This is a very vulnerable community and it’s difficult to gain their trust. They can be very scared.
Guedy: We are also making time to answer questions about the vaccine. Nedelka talks with those who call and they feel safer speaking to her. She makes sure they get connected to the services they may need.
Nedelka: I try to be the bridge to the right person.
Guedy: We believe that all of our community members have the right to high-quality healthcare. We encourage everyone to take advantage. We do not disclose any personal information so there is no need for people to be afraid that if they get health care they’re going to be deported. Give the Immigrant Health Initiative a call—leave us a message and our staff will get back to you. Everyone should get the care they need.
If you are uninsured and need help getting health care, call the Immigrant Health Initiative at (646) 832-7144.