CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A group of students at Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED) see Spanish-speaking communities in Champaign-Urbana facing obstacles to healthcare, including language barriers, insurance access and unfamiliarity with the medical system.

“Currently in the greater Champaign-Urbana population, 16% of patients report having poor or fair health, with 7% of adults not having health insurance,” Aashka Shah, a CI MED student, said. “This is widened in populations of color because having a primary physician is reportedly less likely in minority groups in the CU area.”

Shah is a leader of Campaña de Salud, a student group working to close gaps in healthcare access. To achieve their goal, this group is hosting a community health fair as part of Hispanic Heritage Patriotic Month on September 25. This event takes place at 2103 North Dunlap in Champaign from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Officials said Spanish-speaking physicians will provide free physical exams, health screenings and advice on healthy habits. Shah noted that the team hopes to meet and connect with the Latinx community in their comfort zone and build positive relationships.

Carlos E. Brown Jr. has worked at the Emergency Department of Carle Foundation Hospital for five years and said he only met a small number of Spanish-speaking people at work. Brown said he learned Spanish through his grandmother and school and was glad to help with the health fair. 

Brown said his father was from Mexico, but wanted the children to speak only English.

“For Spanish-speaking patients, the first and most difficult barrier to overcome is being underserved,” Brown said. “The language barrier serves as a roadblock to many aspects of a non-English speaking person’s life. And when that barrier becomes a divide between being healthy and illness, we can do better as a community to overcome that barrier to basic healthcare.”

Officials said there was a similar health fair years ago hosted by medical students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but it was suspended during COVID-19.

“We thought that this year would be a crucial year to bring back the health fair to mitigate the downstream effects of the pandemic as best as we can and to make progress towards closing that gap,” Shah said. “The health fair was created with the idea of providing resources and knowledge to participants to take control of their own well-being.”