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Baltimore organization helps immigrant population access healthcare

Baltimore's Esperanza Center helps immigrant population access healthcare
Baltimore's Esperanza Center helps immigrant population access healthcare 02:34

BALTIMORE -- Immigrants take on many labor-intensive jobs in Baltimore to keep the community thriving, but it's impacting their health. 

Lacking health insurance, rushing to a doctor or the emergency room is not an option for many immigrant laborers. But a local center is helping thousands of families in need.

Immigrant laborers help Baltimore thrive by taking on jobs from serving meals to building homes and roads. But their health is at risk.

Dr. Nalini Negi, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work gave six Latino immigrant men in Baltimore a camera to document their lives for a month.

"One man took a photo of a ladder on a rooftop and talked about how he was doing some roofing under the hot sun, sweating and really beginning to feel faint."

She wanted to see the work and health challenges they face daily. The men were interviewed afterward and they selected 40 photos that best described their truth.

"Despite the fact that he was nearly fainting, he asked his boss for a water break and his boss said no," Negi said. 

The photo exhibit hangs on the walls of UMB's Community Engagement Center, along with the men's quotes, with the hope to make their health needs more visible.

But it's more than just men. 

"We have parents who have two, three, four children that need vaccinations, that need dental care, that need a physical to enroll them in school and so the challenge is bigger," said Mayra Loera, the client services program manager at Esperanza Center, a resource center for immigrants.   

Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for federal health insurance and most employers do not provide benefits to immigrant workers.

That's why the Esperanza Center with Catholic Charities opens its doors, knowing that its clients don't have thousands of dollars on hand.

"You can't go to urgent care for instance, or a regular doctor's office without paying a significant amount of money," said Karen Scheu, a volunteer nurse practitioner at the center. 

"It's heartbreaking honestly," Loera said. "We hear it often."

The center serves about 3,500 immigrants in a year—whether it's physical, dental and even mental needs. 

"They're our neighbors," Negi said. "They're the people that we sit next to on the bus. They're the people that we work alongside with. We should care because they're part of our community."

"Their health matters just as much as our health matters."

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