Street team continues door-to-door canvassing in Immokalee to bridge healthcare gap
It’s close to 95 degrees in Immokalee today. A heavy layer of humidity hangs in the air as a storm just passed through, dowsing the area with hot rain.
Since it’s Tuesday, and regardless of the heat and thick humidity, the Healthcare Network Community Outreach Team is walking door-to-door offering residents any health resources they may need.
The team of seven hops out of two vans to start canvassing in South Immokalee’s Camp Rojo. From each of their forearms hangs eight to 10 black, Healthcare Network-branded reusable tote bags they refer to as “goodie bags.”
Inside there are at-home COVID tests, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves along with educational flyers and pamphlets describing how to book doctor’s appointments and how to access health services.
“We do sometimes, like, between 2 or 3-4 hours. If it’s not raining, no matter the heat, we do the canvassing. If we have to finish this community today, we finish this community today.”Odilest Guerrier, Healthcare Network canvassing team
Odilest Guerrier is leading the team. He’s a senior outreach coordinator for the Healthcare Network. Originally from Haiti, Guerrier has been living in Southwest Florida for the last 6 years.
Seemingly unbothered by the task at hand, or the day’s weather conditions, he explains that the street team usually goes door-to-door every Tuesday and Thursday.
“So, we do sometimes, like, between 2 or 3-4 hours. If it’s not raining, no matter the heat, we do the canvassing. If we have to finish this community today, we finish this community today,” said Guerrier.
This person-to-person approach began in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as an effort to inform remote and vulnerable communities of Immokalee about the virus and how to protect themselves.
Noticing a lack of public health awareness and healthcare access in the predominantly migrant farmworker community, Healthcare Network and local partners choose to continue their efforts, now shifting from predominantly COVID conversations towards educating residents about services the clinic offers.
Resident Maribel Gaspar is originally from Mexico. She has lived in Immokalee for 14 years, residing now in Camp Rojo. At six-months pregnant, she is grateful that the street team comes to her home because she did not know about another clinic beforehand.
“She says thankfully she hasn’t gotten very sick, but that’s where she’d go because that’s the only place she knows of here that offers care, so, Healthcare Network.”
Part of today’s street team is Michelle Velazco, a community health worker with Healthcare Network. She translated the conversation with Gaspar from Spanish to English.
“Right now, we’re kind of done with Camp Rojo. We’re going to go to Farm Worker Village. It’s like 5-10 minutes away,” said Velazco.
Velazco is from Immokalee and says that many of the people who live here don’t have transportation to make it to the clinic. And in 95 degree heat, the street team visits are becoming essential.
“For example, Farm Worker Village is like 5 to 10 minutes away from Healthcare Network, so they're not able to go even walking to their appointment," said Velazco. "So, it's easier for us just to go over there and see if they need any help getting appointments, getting any supplies.”
Farm Worker Village was identified as a community in severe need of health care resources when canvassing began in 2020.
Guerrier says residents have been asking the street team how to pay for the medical services they’re learning about today.
The Healthcare Network offers a medical discount program with a sliding fee scale. Depending on a resident’s income, the program can drastically lower the prices on services. It’s one of the points they cover when they visit each home.
“When we get complaints from this community about, sometimes documentation, sometimes it’s like healthcare, or they don’t have insurance, sometimes they don’t get service because of the language barrier. And we try to be a bridge between the clinic and this community,” said Guerrier.
24-year-old Charlene Paillere helps bridge that gap by speaking Creole and English. Paillere grew up in Farm Worker Village. Her parents were both farmworkers and they brought her to Healthcare Network for doctor’s appointments as a child.
As a long-time patient and now an outreach team member, she says being able to provide clarity to other Haitians about scheduling doctor’s appointments or explaining medications is a way for her to give back.
“Some of the terms that might be used in a healthcare setting are not terms that other Haitians would be cognizant of," said Paillere. "They don't know hypertension, they know high blood pressure, so I like that I get to explain what that word is in simpler terms for them.”
Paillere says this type of outreach is new to Immokalee.
“When I used to live, especially in the Farm Worker Village, we never saw people come door-to-door or anything like that. So, it's really nice that I get to be part of people trying to make a change for the community.”Charlese Paillere, Healthcare Network canvassing team
“When I used to live, especially in the Farm Worker Village, we never saw people come door-to-door or anything like that," said Paillere. "So, it's really nice that I get to be part of people trying to make a change for the community.”
Today’s canvassing comes to a close after about 3 hours of walking in the summer heat. The street team visited 80 homes between Camp Rojo and Farm Worker Village and handed out 40 goodie bags to residents.
The street team will now head back to the Healthcare Network Community Outreach Department office to answer emails, make phone calls and plan upcoming community health testing events.
Though the work is physically demanding and at times difficult, Guerrier says helping the people of Immokalee makes it all worthwhile.
“The work, I feel, is so important because it’s not for us, but the relief we get from the community … the messages we get from the community and the way they feel like they appreciate the service we are trying to offer them,” said Guerrier.
WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.