November 02, 1999

Free clinic for Hispanics seeks federal grant

Staff Reporter

BAY MINETTE - It's hard to slow down Fairhope retiree Peter Wiese once he has made up his mind to do something, said Environmental Planner Ed Polasek who works with Wiese on the county's environmental board.

But Wiese, 78, did not discuss environmental concerns with commissioners at their work session on Tuesday. He spoke instead of improving health-care opportunities for a growing segment of Baldwin's population - Hispanics.

Wiese petitioned commissioners to write a letter of support requesting federal grant money for Clinica Migrante, a health-care outreach center for migrant workers and based in Summerdale.

Wiese said the clinic may be eligible to receive grant money from the Rural Health Outreach Grant Program, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If approved, grant money will likely go toward increasing outreach efforts among Hispanic residents of the county - particularly seasonal farm workers - to let them know there is a free health-care facility run by people who speak their language and understand their needs, Wiese said.

With county support, Wiese said chances will increase for "actually getting some of that money."

He doesn't know how large the program's current budget is, or how much grant money might be available, but said "it's time Baldwin took care of its own."

Wiese said Baldwin County has "an increasing, but uncounted number of Hispanics and minorities." He said because many Hispanics work in low-paying agricultural jobs here, they cannot afford proper health care.

A retired geologist, Wiese said he spent much of his 50-year career in Mexico and Central America, working with Hispanics on a regular basis. Wiese said his primary involvement with the local clinic has been to help find translators to volunteer there.

He wants to see the volunteer nurses and educators who support the clinic receive the federal aid they need to ensure the clinic's continuation and growth.

Commissioner Allen Perdue of Daphne said his district has experienced a rise in Hispanic population, especially in recent years.

"I think we've seen more Hispanics throughout Baldwin County in the last 10 years," Perdue said. "I think we know they are here, and we should do what we can to accommodate them."

At the work session, Chairman Frank Burt of Bay Minette said writing a letter of recommendation will be placed on the agenda for the Nov. 2 meeting.

In 1997, Wiese's neighbor, Carolyn White of Fairhope, who is clinical assistant professor at the University of South Alabama, began talking to church and minority groups searching for ways to provide health care for migrant workers.

Ms. White began seeing patients on a volunteer basis at a Sunday school room in San Pedro United Methodist Church, a Hispanic Ministries-sponsored church in Summerdale.

Providing services every other Sunday, she said she saw more than 100 patients within a year.

The goal of the Clinica Migrante - which is currently held together by a volunteer partnership of health-care professionals, translators and church groups - is to provide free health care, educational skills and advice to Hispanics and other minorities living in Baldwin County, Wiese said.

From January to Sept. 1, Ms. White saw patients on Saturday afternoons at the Health Department's clinic in Robertsdale.

Thanks to a continued partnership with Hispanic Ministries and USA College of Nursing, a grant was approved to be earmarked for educational support for migrants and other Hispanic patients being seen at the clinic.

Wiese said he is optimistic about hearing "more good news" about the federal grants funds as well. "I don't have all the details yet," he said. "But I know the money is out there, and there is no reason for Baldwin County not to have some of it."

© 1999 Mobile Register.