Thresholds Health exam room | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

When Austin’s Thresholds Health clinic, 5801 W. Corcoran Pl., had a soft opening in early March, Dr. Alaina Fields, one of the facility’s family health providers, was out talking to the curious neighbors.

“One of the neighbors came by, and she said – do you see people who don’t have insurance, doesn’t matter the legal status?” she recalled. “And I was – of course, we see everybody? And she said – I have a family who ended up treated in an ER.”

That family, one of hundreds of refugees who were dropped off at the 15th Police District station on Madison Street over the past few months, needed follow-up medical care, but the woman had no idea where to refer them to. Asylum-seekers are not eligible for Medicaid, and they couldn’t pay for the cost out of the pocket.

That exchange led to a steady stream of asylum-seekers coming to get care, and Fields, who is a fluent Spanish-speaker, has been treating most of them. She admitted that coming up with the funding has been a struggle, and there is one need they wish they could meet – providing mental health services in Spanish. But Fields said that Thresholds has no plans to stop, because it was the morally right thing to do as an Austin institution. They hope to hire at least one Spanish-speaking trauma specialist.

Thresholds, a Ravenswood-based addiction recovery service provider, originally opened the Austin site as supportive housing for their clients. Last fall, they opened a clinic on the first floor to serve those clients, but given the shortage of primary care throughout Austin, they decided to open it to everyone.

From the get-go, Thresholds Health was open to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, and they made sure to hire Spanish-speaking staff to serve the community’s growing Hispanic population.

Fields said that since that March meeting, asylum-seekers have been coming to the clinic “literally every day.” She said she couldn’t give exact numbers, except to say that it has been growing. Fields said patients are referred by word of mouth and through a WhatsApp group that helps asylum-seekers find care.

“We’re following up on basically their primary care needs, but also trying to do screenings, healthcare maintenance, labs, just kind of getting the idea of general health, [doing] a little bit of social support we can provide,” Fields said. “We work with New Moms [a nonprofit organization], who were able to put us in contact with someone who had diapers and clothes for little children.”

Thresholds also works with other organizations to try to help patients with other needs, such as housing.

It became clear early on that asylum-seekers, who made a long trek from Central and South American countries and were put on buses to Chicago with little idea of what they were getting into, were dealing with more than physical ailments.

“As you can imagine, we’re seeing patients with a lot of trauma, depression and anxiety, related to [their experience],” she said. “One thing I wish we could do is to have someone who’s Spanish speaking who’s well-versed in trauma counseling, that’s something, a need I see.”

While they have an English-speaking counselor who can talk to patients through a translator, Fields said, that is not an ideal solution.

If the patients’ health issues are beyond what a clinic can handle, Thresholds tries to refer them to nearby hospitals.

“At Loretto Hospital, for instance, they have a charity program,” Fields said. “There was one patient where I really needed to have imaging done, and they were able to help that patient out.”

While some patients were eventually able to get some kind of financial aid, Thresholds covers most of their treatment out of its own budget. Fields said that she doesn’t know the exact details – but she personally has no intention of stopping.

“If you go down to the [15th District station], you’ll find a need,” she said. “I think we should all do it. As community residents, we need to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin – in the end, it’s an individual. Suffering and pain is universal.”

Thresholds Health is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday. It is closed on weekends.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...