… to Facilitate Wider Access to Healthcare for Spanish-Speaking Immigrants
Jennifer DiCapua, a 17-year-old high school senior at Sacred Heart Greenwich from Armonk, NY, saw a problem and sought an innovative solution when she was merely 14 years old. Jennifer designed and developed a mobile app, Salud por Todos, which translates to Health for All.
The app, which targets the Spanish speaking immigrant community, can be accessed anonymously by users to search for doctors using an array of customized filters, including payment options, language spoken, and whether patients require government ID. This easy-to-use app makes it possible for a Spanish-speaking immigrant without health insurance, for example, to quickly identify a doctor from the safety of their phone who speaks Spanish and has a sliding scale payment plan available. Jennifer started this project as a high school freshman as part of her school’s science research program.
To compile the database on Salud por Todos of over 6,000 providers across the Bronx, Westchester and Fairfield counties, Jennifer used a variety of publicly available online sources. She further contacted community programs for marginalized populations to direct her to providers, and reviewed providers’ websites to verify their information.
Inspired by Family and a Passion for Community Service
Jennifer was inspired by her father, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child from South America and grew up facing healthcare challenges but eventually broke through barriers to find success and become a doctor himself. Her father’s interest in medicine was partly fueled by his experience being quarantined by the Department of Health for six weeks as a child with whooping cough. Jennifer’s passion for this subject was further guided by her childhood experiences visiting her grandmother weekly and befriending other children in her grandmother’s building in a predominantly Spanish speaking immigrant community in New Rochelle.
“Visiting my grandmother, I would interface with members of the Latinx community and observed the struggles they were facing while accessing healthcare. The barriers they faced included language, fear of deportation, lack of insurance, and government ID requirements,” explains Jennifer. “I compared that to my own life where my parents were able to easily book and pay for my healthcare appointments. That disparity really spoke to me.”
Believing healthcare is a human right but observing some of her childhood friends struggle to access proper healthcare while dealing with teen pregnancy and mental health issues, Jennifer wanted to do something about it.
“Seeing how my life has gone one way and their lives have gone another way has deeply impacted me,” says Jennifer. “I am so grateful for those friends that I grew up with because I remember so fondly the innocence of childhood, playing games and having dinner together, watching tv and having sleepovers. There were underlying things beneath the surface that, as a child, I didn’t understand. Now, I realize they taught me something that I didn’t know I was learning at the time. I now understand the different ways that life can take you.”
Jennifer’s father, Dr. John DiCapua says, “It’s very humbling to have your daughter reach back into your family history and bring that into what they want to do in the future. I lived that life, and we figured out a way to prosper the American dream but so many of the people I call my friends and family struggled and the fact that she’s latched onto that community to help them and figure out ways to provide value, it’s more than proud – it reaches to my history, so yes, I’m very proud of her.”
“Jennifer has persevered through challenges along the way with energy and positivity and a commitment to serving others. It’s that aspect of her personality that I’m most proud of,” says her mom, Christine DiCapua.
On Accessing Healthcare
Jennifer’s research led her to one of Westchester’s treasured resources, Open Door Family Medical Centers, which has been providing healthcare in Westchester for over fifty years. Open Door is one of over 60 federally qualified community health centers that receive government funds to provide care to anyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay. They treat over 60,000 patients at six different care sites in Westchester and Putnam Counties, and one dedicated dental site in Ulster County.
Dr. Daren Wu, Chief Medical Officer of Open Door, explains that he and his fellow clinicians manage many chronic conditions for patients who often do not want to go to a specialist because of whatever challenges they have in their lives, whether transportation, finances, or language. “Here, at Open Door, we take care of all the cardiac issues, diabetes, etc. so we get to help out a patient population that is well-deserving and we get to practice a lot of medicine.”
If patients ultimately do require specialists, Open Door has advocates that work with patients in their language to help navigate our very complex medical system.
“When patients delay their care because of a perceived access issue, this delay directly translates into higher complexity costs, morbidity and mortality,” says Dr. Wu. “If we can use Jennifer’s good work to get patients into the care they need earlier rather than later, that actually is transformative.”
Jennifer’s future goals are to continue verifying provider information for the app and eventually expanding the database so she could help different populations. She is currently applying to college and is interested in universities where she can focus on this type of research, community outreach and continuing to develop innovations to help minority populations.
Despite being very busy working on her app, Jennifer still finds time to be a normal teenager. She particularly loves to cook and try out traditional family recipes, like her grandmother’s empanadas.