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San Diego Program Helps Poor Pregnant Women Get Vital Services

Providing Pediatric Care for Low-Income Women

Access to prenatal care is a challenge for poor, uninsured women who don’t speak English. And once their babies are born, pediatric care can also be hard to get.

Since 2007, a San Diego program has helped more than one thousand low-income women and their children get a healthy start in life.

San Diego Program Helps Poor Pregnant Women Get Vital Services
A program in San Diego relies on a hands-on approach to connecting low-income pregnant women and their children with vital services.

Maria Barraza’s first stop on this Tuesday morning is to see a client in an apartment in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. She greets her client, Elena Trujillo, with a hug and a kiss.


“Hola, como estás? Muy bien, gracias.”

Barraza is an outreach worker for the California Border Healthy Start Project, a program run by Project Concern International.

Elena Trujillo is seven months pregnant.

Barraza’s job is to make sure she’s staying on track with her medical appointments. Barraza checks that Trujillo is getting her Medi-Cal benefits, and that she’s taking her prenatal vitamins.

Barraza also wants to see how Trujillo’s 18-month-old daughter Lea is doing.


“Como está, mama? Dame un besito," Barraza says to the shy little girl.

Barraza takes note of Lea's language and social skills.

Lea's mom, Elena, said the program has made a big difference in her life.

"The program has been great," Trujillo said. "I’ve gotten a lot of support. The classes that they’ve given me have helped a lot with my kids and my health."

In addition to home visits, the program offers free classes on a variety of topics, including how to prevent childhood obesity.

"More than anything, I’ve learned how cook good food, which has really improved my family’s health," Trujillo explained. "We used to eat a lot of lard and tortillas. And they told me that those kinds of foods make you fat. So I’ve learned a lot, and we’re trying not to eat like that. We want to eat better, more healthy."

The program targets women in San Diego County’s poorest neighborhoods, where overall health is bad, and infant mortality is high.

There are more than 100 federally funded Healthy Start projects in the U.S. This is the only one that serves California’s border region.

Program director Maria Lourdes Reyes pointed out their clientele are primarily Spanish speaking. That’s why it’s crucial to have outreach workers who speak the language, and know the culture.

"And so the concept there is that here’s someone who belongs to the community, who the community can feel trusted with. And with that bond, then, we’re able to break the barriers that exist among these women that we need to serve," Reyes continued. "So that’s the basic goal, and taking care of the pregnant women and their infant and child up to two years of age."

Dr. Reyes said part of their mission is to help pregnant women get into prenatal care as early as possible.

"So we’ve seen an improvement of up to 90 percent from our baseline from entry into prenatal care for our women. So that’s a great outcome," Reyes said. "In addition, we screen all our women for depression, and also for domestic violence. That’s a key sub-focus of our project.”

The program also provides women with a specially trained labor coach.

But it’s the contact between the clients and the outreach workers that make up the meat and potatoes of the program.

Maria Barraza is in South San Diego to visit Angelica Foster and her 2-year-old, Ariana.

“Ay, que bonito!," she says to Ariana. "Te vas conmigo? Mira, te voy enseñar un libro del perrito.”

After reading with Ariana, Barraza checks to see that her vaccinations are up to date.

Barraza said 90 percent of her clients are undocumented. They need referrals to community clinics, and services like the San Diego Food Bank.

"Because they are afraid that, okay, I don’t want to go to this agency because if I go, they’re going to request for papers, or they’re going to say, no, you cannot have any services. But there are many services free-of-charge that they don’t know they can get help with," Barraza explained.

And for those who say we shouldn’t be helping people who are here illegally, Barraza has a quick response.

"Not just legal people have rights," Barraza said. "I would say that we are all human beings. What matters is we have to help the community have a better future for our children."

The Border Healthy Start Project has just received a new $1.25 million federal grant to expand its services.

Corrected: July 12, 2024 at 2:56 PM PDT
Video by Katie Euphrat