Rocking Horse sees more growth in immigrant patients

New CEO, CMO working together to address needs of Springfield’s burgeoning infant, young population.

Credit: Jessica Orozco

Credit: Jessica Orozco

Rocking Horse Community Health Center is continuing to see a growth in immigrant patients and has been adapting its care and resources to meet their needs.

The health center is emphasizing prenatal and infant care with the Haitian immigrant population being an overall younger population, new Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carol Barlage said.

In 2023, Rocking Horse had almost 15,000 total patients who accounted for about 79,000 visits, Chief Executive Office Dr. Yamini Teegala said. Almost 20% of these visits were non-English speaking patients, she said. About four years ago, non-English speaking patients made up about 1-2% of visits.

The Hispanic and Latino patient population has also grown, and that accounts for some of these visits.

With a population in Springfield of almost 60,000, and an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Haitian immigrants, Teegala estimated that 15% of Springfield’s population is Haitian, and they are going to Rocking Horse.

“That’s the thing I think people need to understand is that they’re not going anywhere else for primary care,” Teegala said.

This has created some challenges, like providing sufficient interpretation services, Teegala said. The health center has about six employees who speak Haitian Creole but spent about $300,000 on audio, visual and telephone interpretation services.

Barlage said the health center jumped from about 300 to 600 newborn visits from 2022 to 2023, with about of a third of the families being non-English speaking. This includes Haitian Creole and Spanish.

“It’s just a younger population because that’s who can immigrate, from anywhere, and so that means more babies, but there was a boom of babies all across the board — not just non-English speakers,” Barlage said.

Newborns often need to be seen immediately, as opposed to adults who can be triaged and seen in a week or so, Teegala said. This creates a challenge with scheduling while still following standard of care guidelines, Barlage said.

While there are many challenges associated with treating a growing community with unique needs, Teegala said the health center is up to the challenge of moving “the needle that is this sizeable and palpable.”

“Our role is to take care of individuals that cannot find that resource elsewhere, and we are committed to that mission of a federally qualified health center — not only our mission saying that we empower people to get the best of their health,” Teegala said. “I do believe that and I really think one of the things that makes me confident is that we have excellent partners and relationships in this community and we are a trusted entity and we have trusted partners.”

Federally qualified health centers must meet certain qualifications, including serving underserved areas or populations, providing comprehensive services, having governing boards of directors and qualifying for certain funding.

Barlage assumed her new position last month, taking over for Teegala, who started as CEO this year. Barlage has been with Rocking Horse for about 11 years, and Teegala has been there for around 16.

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