LatinaLista — In 1975, a six-year-old girl named Virginia Garcia cut her foot in Oregon, where the girl’s farmworker family had come from their home in Mission, Texas to harvest the local produce. Speaking little English and having no health insurance, Virginia’s family didn’t immediately take her to the doctor. An infection set in and on Father’s Day in 1975, Virginia Garcia died.
Her death brought a community together and a vow that no one would go without access to healthcare regardless of language or lack of insurance. On that day, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center was established in a three-car garage in Cornelius, Oregon.
From those humble beginnings, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center now encompasses a network of health clinics, a Health Start clinic, dental clinics and school-based clinics.
The network serves about 30,000 patients a year — half of them are uninsured and 65 percent are Latino.
The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center keeps financially afloat through a combination of grants, fees for services and donations but demand has exceeded their capacity to treat everyone who needs help.
In 2009, it was named one of Portland, Oregon’s top 15 area non-profits.
Javier is five. His family is from Guatemala. Spanish is the family’s first language. When our dentist saw Javier, she saw a cavity in every one of his teeth. His mother tells us that he could not eat hot or cold food. His oral health had gotten so bad that he couldn’t even eat tortillas.
The entire six members of the household share one toothbrush. And, it is not always used.
Sadly, for children like Javier, the constant aching of each tooth has been such a daily occurrence it is assumed to be normal. The children we see often have cavities in almost all of their baby teeth. It starts with baby bottle syndrome and only worsens without intervention.
Time and again when asked if their teeth hurt, these kids say, “no.” Sadly, it isn’t until they have restorative care that they realize they’ve been in constant pain. This prevents them from focusing in school, and it leads to health problems and serious lifelong dental problems, if left untreated.
Because Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center was there for Javier, he has a chance to have a healthy life. Plus, every member of his family now owns his or her very own toothbrush!