Healthcare in Chicago: An Immigrant’s Perspective

I was born in Ecuador, but the past 14 years of my life have been spent in the Northwest Chicago neighborhoods of Albany Park, Kilbourn Park, Belmont Cragin, and Jefferson Park. Overall, my personal accounts of health inequities in my community are limited. I have been fortunate enough to have parents who, although setback by their lack of English, continue to navigate the complex health care system and obtain what we needed. However, one fact I recognize now is I seemingly never saw the same doctor or dentist.  This was a result of my parents continuing to explore the multiple options, contingent on affordability. In the end, I am fortunate to have never lacked a vaccine, gone without a doctor’s check-up, or been haunted by the notion that I would have to pay for emergency health care in full. This is not the case for everyone.


For Steven Li, one of my peers from Walter Payton College Prep, the brunt of health care inequity has been his reality. In his words, “My family has never actually went for a regular’s doctor’s check-up… we knew it would be more expensive without health insurance.” 

He retells the time he fell very ill. He woke up that morning with a sore throat and desert in his mouth. Desperate for water he pulled himself from bed, but was greeted by a fatigue not solely caused by the early Saturday morning. Later that cold night his condition worsened: his nausea and fever silenced his appetite in between episodes of thick and sometimes bloody coughs. The crimson color is enough to make any concerned parents to call their doctor, but was a luxury not afforded to Steven’s uninsured, and Chinese-Immigrant parents. Afraid of medical costs and their lack of English, they took care of their son at home; rest, warmed water, tea, and soups were his ailments. 


For Steven, a combination of socioeconomic barriers have hindered his family’s ability to afford health insurance. These barriers include the lack of English, experience with the American healthcare system as a whole, his father’s occupation not providing healthcare plans, and ultimately having low income; they have left Steven’s family to only visit the doctor when absolutely necessary for mandatory vaccines. 


In Chicago, health disparities can create very different experiences, even among varying immigrant families. For some, they can count on seeing their doctor in six months, while for others, they dread the imminent, costly medical bills they will pay without the help of health insurance. The lack of access and guidance introduces avertible barriers in our healthcare system which impact our communities across Chicago. Greater understanding of these under resourced communities will ensure people will be able to not only afford health care, but to ensure access to it. 

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