PINE PLAINS— Comprehensive medical care is not something everyone has access to these days. Specialty OBGYN care can be especially elusive to some, including low-income and immigrant populations. That’s why Dr. Emily Hartzog, MD, and nutritionist Solange Muller have joined forces to establish the Harlem Valley Pro-Mujer, a mobile health clinic providing free care to underserved women in the region.
“I just felt there was a big gap in care,” said Hartzog. “If you look at the statistics, their rate of having problems with pap smears and changes in the cervix are going up, while in the rest of the country they’re going down. I do speak Spanish so it fills that gap, and the mobile van helps with any transportation problems.”
Pro-Mujer’s mission is “to provide top quality health outreach, assessment and referrals for the underserved women in the Hudson Valley and overcome barriers due to language and distance,” according to its flyer.
The project is affiliated with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Heartland Alliance, based out of Chicago. The Heartland Alliance has been providing care for the immigrant community for nearly a century.
The medical van stops once a month in Red Hook; it now also stops monthly at Memorial Hall in Pine Plains.
“Personally, I am just a physician and want to fill the gaps for medical care,” said Hartzog, who established medical clinics in Mexico previously for the indigenous population. That experience helped her develop the idea for Pro-Mujer.
“I’m financing it myself with my husband, and we want to see people get care who are working and contributing to the community.”
The couple had to buy the van and outfit it, which cost about $25,000. Then there’s the additional cost of extra malpractice insurance, which costs between $12,000 to $15,000 annually.
“She doesn’t get paid for this and it’s just amazing what she did,” said Grace Latino Outreach Director Evelyn Garzetta. “I see her as a saint for people who cannot afford it.”
Hartzog is a doctor in New York City; she comes to the Hudson Valley on her days off, volunteering her time with the mobile medical unit.
Pro-Mujer provides “annual health care visits for women and timely follow up of any pap smear abnormalities; specialty care for gynecologic problems; assistance in navigating the health care system for mammograms and other needed services, including directions, paperwork and referrals; directing women without primary care into a medical home; and nutrition counseling for the whole family, including diabetes prevention,” according to its literature.
“It’s for anybody who cannot afford to go see an OBGYN,” said Garzetta. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you wear or what you look like. And there are absolutely, positively so many people without health insurance.”
That’s why Garzetta spoke with Memorial Hall owner Jack Banning when the mobile medical unit was looking for a home in Pine Plains. Memorial Hall has been in the news lately as it’s in the midst of renovation plans, with the goal of becoming a performing arts center for the Tri-state region. It’s centrally located on Church Street (Route 199).
“I had a conversation with Jack and asked him if he could help us get somewhere to park this van, and we spoke about a couple of sites,” Garzetta said. “He was in negotiations to buy Memorial Hall, and once he purchased it he spoke to his partners and they all agreed on it. And in the beginning of April I got an email from Solange saying they were ready to come to Pine Plains.”
“What a great thing,” said Memorial Hall Executive Director Brian Keeler. “They needed a centrally located spot in Pine Plains and asked if they could park in the lot of Memorial Hall. It was a no-brainer.
“Part of our mission statement is to help serve the community in as many ways as we can anticipate and ways we can’t,” he added. “This is not one we thought of ourselves, but it fits into our mission to provide a center for the community to come for services.”
“It’s a needed use,” said town Supervisor Brian Coons.
Coons has been busy trying to bring new commerce and additional services to the town of Pine Plains, and medical care for immigrant and low-income women is one service that heretofore has been difficult to meet.
Lack of care has serious ramifications. According to Pro-Mujer, “Evidence indicates that immigrants have less access to preventative services. Lack of health insurance is the strongest predictor of no recent mammogram, clinical breast exam or pap test. Although the incidence and mortality from cervical cancer is on the decline among women born in the United States, it is actually increasing among immigrant women.”
To learn more about Pro-Mujer call Solange Muller at 845-803-3007. Appointments are not required.
Pro-Mujer is at Memorial Hall in Pine Plains on the fourth Monday of every month. Memorial Hall is located at 2950 Church St. (Route 199). Pro~Mujer is at Migliorelli Farm Stand at 7357 Broadway in Red Hook on the second Monday of the month.