Migrant Clinicians Network
Photo credit: Earl Dotter

Health Network: Helping health centers provide continuity for mobile patients

By Claire Hutkins Seda, Writer & Editor at Migrant Clinicians Network.

Last year, Julia*, a migrant farmworker patient, went to see the OB/GYN for a check-up at the night clinic at Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., a Federally Qualified Health Center in South Carolina.  She wanted to get pregnant, and had attended the night clinic to check on her health before trying. A few days after her appointment, however, Julia’s pap smear came back abnormal. She needed a follow-up appointment to check further for HPV or cervical cancer. But, as with many migrant patients, Julia had already moved north to find more work by the time the results came back. 

“That happens—they’re here one night, and two days later, they’ve left, because they’re not making enough money,” explained Mari Valentin, Outreach Coordinator at Beaufort-Jasper. In some instances, farmworkers might not even know where they are next traveling at the time of their appointment, simply moving on until they find work.

Bridging the gap with Health Network
Fortunately for Julia, Valentin makes sure that all the night clinic patients are pre-enrolled in Health Network, a free program of Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), a nonprofit focused on health justice for the mobile poor. Health Network is a bridge case management system that keeps in touch with migrant patients with ongoing health conditions, helping them find a new clinician at their next location, assuring medical records are transferred, and removing other barriers so they can complete treatment even while on the move. Clinicians can enroll any patient that they believe may be lost to follow-up care because they are mobile, whether that patient is a traveler, a farmworker, an international student, or a truck driver.

Julia’s clinician gave Julia the Health Network enrollment form to sign, just in case. When the results came in and Julia was no longer in the area, Valentin sent the signed form to Ricardo Garay, Health Network Manager, who immediately called Julia, determined where she was going next, and found a clinic for her. Valentin also sent Julia’s medical records, which enable the Health Network Associates to look for clinics and follow-up options. Garay forwarded Julia’s records to the new clinic.

“Migrant Clinicians Network’s Health Network has been a savior to my program because of its efficiency, and the work and the effort they put into these patients with chronic illnesses,” Valentin explained. “MCN gives me those extra hands that can pick up the phone.”

How a simple enrollment form can save a life
At Beaufort-Jasper, Valentin has implemented a system wherein the triage nurse at the night clinic has all patients review and sign the Health Network enrollment form, available in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, or Portuguese. That way, if the patient needs follow-up, Valentin is ready to forward their information directly to Health Network. 

The busy night clinic tallied more than 1000 encounters in its six short weeks of service during peak tomato season this year, providing adult medicine, dental, OB/GYN, and pediatric services. With patients served for such a short time frame, Valentin finds that Health Network is the only way she can make sure the patients who need ongoing care don’t drop out. So while all patients sign the enrollment form just in case, a small portion who leave the area but still need care are enrolled in Health Network. 

“How is Martha doing with her diabetes? Or how is her blood pressure? There’s only so much that we can do with so little time. MCN is the means to achieve that goal of continuity of care,” Valentin said. 

For many patients like Julia, the enrollment means life or death. After Julia got follow-up care in her new location, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Garay helped her arrange for surgery at yet another location further south. Without Health Network, Julia would likely have been lost to follow-up—and her cancer would have gone undetected.

A proven tool that’s easy to try out
For health centers across the U.S. like Beaufort-Jasper, Health Network is the only tool they have to make sure their mobile patients aren’t lost to follow-up—and it works. Since 1996, Health Network has assisted thousands of patients moving domestically and internationally in completing treatment despite their mobility. Health Network serves patients with any health concern, helping HIV patients secure their antiretroviral medications, assuring pregnant women receive regular prenatal care, or getting a young child to the doctor for an ongoing eye issue. 

Garay notes that, while Beaufort-Jasper has its Health Network enrollment policies well dialed in, clinics can start small and build numbers over time—an easy way to try a system out and see the positive results. Check out Health Network’s concise four-part video series to learn how and why to enroll.

For Valentin, it’s a no-brainer. “I love MCN!” she said. Valentin is so well-loved in the migrant camps that some treat her as a family member. It pains her to see patients leave when they need more care. Health Network allows clinics like Beaufort-Jasper to bridge their care and attention for patients when they leave their service area. Having their patients enrolled in Health Network facilities that same level of care and attention throughout the year—not just during those six weeks in South Carolina. 

“Sometimes I go crazy trying to locate patients, even here at the camps [for migrant farmworkers],” Valentin explained. “If they’re gone, I turn to MCN and they take care of it.”

Health Network services are free of charge and available for any clinician at health centers, clinics, private practices, local health departments, and other government-funded agencies. The enrollment application is available online. Enrollment training and support are also available. 

Interested for your health center? Contact Ricardo Garay, Health Network Manager by email to learn more or call him at 512-579-4508.

Migrant Clinicians Network is a nonprofit dedicated to health justice for the mobile poor, creating practical solutions at the intersection of poverty, migration, and health.

*All names, dates, and locations are changed to protect the identity of the patient.


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