El Paso health center recognized for cultural approach to community wellbeing

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By Maria Venegas

Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe is an award-winning, non-profit clinic in the heart of Segundo Barrio, which provides health care services to primarily indigent Hispanic families living near the border.

Currently, La Fe has 22 facilities and 11 regional clinics that serve low income community members.

Media Relations Administrator Estela Reyes said that the center started out as a small organization and was established in 1967 by a group of parents, mostly mothers and grandmothers that felt their community needed to be changed for their children’s future.

“They didn’t want violence and substance abuse, instead they wanted good jobs, education, a future, community infrastructure- a better life for the community they called home,” Reyes said.

The Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe is a social justice organization that provides medical care and other services. Photo by Elliott Hinojos

The first clinic opened on 700 South Ochoa Street located in Segundo Barrio, a neighborhood in downtown El Paso known for its poor living conditions and bad reputation.

Back then, six buildings were so unmaintained that they became known as “Los Seis Infiernos” (The Six Hells) and just living in Segundo Barrio felt like “The Seventh Hell” Reyes said.  

To change the community’s bad reputation, the parents in Segundo Barrio began the movement of creating a non-profit organization that still lives on today: Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.

“We have first, second, and third generations of people who lived in Segundo Barrio that still live here,” Dance Instructor Emmanuel Alfaro said.

Reyes said that what truly sets their clinic apart from others is their focus on health care not as a simplistic physical health care but the emotional, and total well-being of a family of an individual.

Fliers of Centro La Fe’s programs promote the center’s many services and events, including Ballet Folkloro. Photo by Maria Venegas

Some of the programs that La Fe offers include a preparatory school and adolescent wellness centers where they push students to find a voice in society and further their education.

Another big activity in the center is Ballet Folkorico, taught by Emmanuel Alfaro to educate children and adults on the history behind this historical dance.

“Growing up, I didn’t have facilities like these where they teach you, help you, educate you. We had streets, in which we’d get in trouble,” Alfaro said about his reason of teaching ballet folklorico at La Fe. “I didn’t want that for the kids.”

La Fe clinics know just how necessary social justice is for their community, which is why everyday they’re coming up with new programs and services such as the Senior Companion Program and the Culture and Technology Center to provide the most possible resources to its people.

Mural in Centro La Fe of a family surrounding the food pyramid. Centro La Fe cares every patients well-being and focuses on community health. Photo by Maria Venegas

“It is culturally vibrant, focused on social justice and total well-being, a holistic comprehensive circle of elements that influence what we call health,” Reyes said when describing the clinic. “Justice is important because people’s lives matter. Anybody who doesn’t understand the power of social injustice is lucky. They don’t understand what it feels like to be judged.”

La Fe also prides themselves on treating their patients as family. Salvador Balcorta, the CEO of La Fe, tells his workers to treat every patient as their own mother, brother, and father, Reyes said.

Since La Fe provides health services mainly to people below the poverty line, they aim to make their medication affordable. La Fe Pharmacist Sam Aboud said that about 95 percent of the pharmacy’s prescriptions cost only seven dollars.

“We buy our drugs through a government program which allows us to purchase medication at an extremely discounted rate,” Aboud said. “It helps us generate some cash flow for the clinic and helps the patients have access to a wide variety of medication- It’s a win-win situation.”

However, to be provided with medication, one has to register at the Centro La Fe Clinic and according to Reyes, everyone is welcome regardless of economic status. To register, one has to show proof of identification, address, and income.

 

La Fe Preparatory School is an educational school in Segundo Barrio that begins from pre-K to 8th grade. Photo by Maria Venegas

“Everybody qualifies to be a registered member but not everyone will qualify for our discounts and benefits,” Reyes said. “It depends on your income and where you live, most of our patients, because they are low income and live in South El Paso, a low poverty zone, they do qualify for a lot of our discounts.”

The pharmacy also has a different type of function than most other clinics and pharmacies. La Fe’s clinics deal with a predominantly Mexican-American community who treat their pharmacists as doctors. Therefore, Salvador Balcorta made his pharmacy the focal point of the clinic so patients can directly access their medication through their pharmacist. The clinic makes the experience unique for patients to so that they can feel at home.

Centro La Fe clinic continues to demonstrate that a community can continue to grow through diligence. For La Fe, the work is never finished. The completion of one service project is just the beginning of the next.

“Our organization has been here 51 years and I hope that we will be here many more decades to come because the opportunity to serve our families and the humblest among us, is an honor and a privilege,” Reyes said.

This story was produced as part of the Journalism in July 2018 workshop for high school students at UT El Paso.

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