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 Can’t afford a health plan? No worries!

Foundation assists with access to health care for Guam’s uninsured, underinsured

 

Staff of the Todu Guam Clinic gather for a photo Jan. 11 at the clinic in Tamuning. They are: from left; I.B. Quichocho, executive assistant; Adriana de Chavez, medical assistant; Delyn Mackwelung, registered nurse; Stephanie Taijeron, nurse practitioner, advanced practice registered registered nurse; and Dennis Rodriguez Jr. Photo by Frank Whitman


 By Frank Whitman

 

As chair of the Guam Legislature’s committee on health care for eight years, then-Sen. Dennis Rodriguez became quite familiar with the healthcare needs of Guam residents and the shortcomings in meeting those needs, particularly among those with low or no incomes. To address the health challenges, in 2016 he and his wife launched a mobile outreach clinic that provided, and continues to provide, health care services, at no cost to patients.


In July 2016, at the mobile clinic’s first outreach, 30 volunteers provided health care services to more than 100 individuals, according to the group’s website. A year later, the Rodríguezes registered the group as the Todu Guam Foundation, a nonprofit organization, and in 2019 the foundation opened a brick-and-mortar clinic in Tamuning.


“We established (the foundation) as an organization of volunteers to go out and fill the gaps in services, especially medical services in our community, for those who don’t have access to health care, to primary care services,” Rodriguez said. “The past few years we’ve expanded. We go out and get grants from local organizations and the federal government.”


In November 2023, the foundation received $200,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health care philanthropic organization based in New Jersey. That foundation provided the funding to continue outreach missions.


If patients have insurance or are otherwise eligible to have their care covered, the Todu Guam Foundation will seek reimbursement. “If the individuals don’t have health insurance, then we’ll tell them, ‘still come, we’ll help you; we’ll find a way,’” Rodriguez said. “We set aside funding through our own fundraisers, and personal contributions. We put that aside so that it helps fund individuals in our community that don’t have any of those insurances (with whom we are accredited).”


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Thus far, the foundation has provided services to 12,913 Guam residents and conducted 81 medical outreach missions, according to the foundation website. Of those, 8,999 residents received medical care. In addition, 384 doctors, nurses, medical professionals and students have volunteered with the foundation.


As with most healthcare clinics, the foundation is trying to recruit new providers. Rodriguez recently spoke to a psychiatrist he hopes to bring on board soon within the next few months and he is hoping to recruit an obstetrician/gynecologist for the foundation’s women’s health program. He said he prefers to recruit off island, otherwise he would just be taking from elsewhere on island. “It doesn’t really make a difference.”  


The clinic currently has providers on staff – two nurse practitioners, and a family medicine doctor. “And we have volunteers who continue to come out especially for our outreaches,” Rodriguez said.


At a January outreach at the Gill Baza subdivision in Yigo, three providers saw 60 people, he said. The foundation conducts monthly mobile clinic outreaches at Gill Baza and Gill Breeze subdivisions, both of which have inadequate infrastructure and are populated by low-income families. 


Rodriguez said he thinks the island has failed residents of those areas. “You have hundreds of families there, but no running water, no sewer infrastructure,” he said. “We’ll go there; we’ll provide the services as much as we can, but it’s not sustainable. If they don’t change the environment, the living conditions, the cycle will just continue.”


Initially, subdivision residents were skeptical about the Todu outreach schedule. “For them, a lot of people come and go, especially after a disaster,” Rodriguez said. “But after that, it’s easy to forget about them. They’re way off (from more populated areas). No one will just drive by there.” He assured residents that the outreach workers would be there whether or not they are residents.


Todu members have since been invited to take part in discussions with federal and national organizations about providing assistance to improve the subdivision infrastructure. “We’ll do everything we can because we’ve developed a relationship with the residents there,” he said.


The foundation maintains four flagship programs.

    Hinemlo’ para i Famalao’an (Healing for Women) focuses on women’s health, specifically on preventing and screening for cervical cancer.


MindCare makes use of a device approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and smoking cessation. “One big gap in the services in our community is mental health care,” Rodriguez said. The device was purchased with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


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Cares Movement, a community approach to resilience and engagement for students, is a social-emotional wellness program that assists socially marginalized students in public schools to build resiliency. It is funded by Covid-19 relief funds and utilizes an evidence-based curriculum. The program includes bringing inspirational speakers to Guam, including suicide survivors, one of whom, Kevin Hines, proved particularly effective, Rodriguez said. At every school, Hines gave students his personal phone number and encouraged them to call him if needed. “At every school we went to we had at least one student text him, ‘I was planning to kill myself today and because of you, I’m not going to do it.’”


The Patient Navigation and Financial Assistance program assists with referral services for needed care or financial assistance “through our network of providers and community resources.”


The root problem with Guam health care, Rodriguez said, is that a lot of community members cannot just walk into any of the many clinics in Guam because they don’t have health insurance. “So people with the common cold or the flu, because they couldn’t get care end up with pneumonia or something greater and going to the emergency room and costing GovGuam a lot more,” he said.

    



   

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