A nursing student who is fluent in Spanish greets her patient warmly as the woman arrives at a beautiful health center for uninsured people in Aurora.
Yamila Diaz was in danger in her home country of Uruguay after working as a police officer there. She now works both day and night shifts for UPS and Amazon in Colorado and is seeking asylum in the United States.
Yamila is grateful when she arrives at DAWN Health on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and finds that nursing student Claudia Martinez Antillon will be serving as her medical interpreter for this Tuesday evening primary care clinic.
Martinez Antillon has assisted Yamila at previous visits.
“It’s so amazing when someone greets you in your own language,” said Yamila, 34.
Before moving to Colorado a year ago, Yamila was working at a construction job in Florida with her husband. She got an infection from a maggot bite and needed medical help when her elbow started to swell. At a Florida clinic, she experienced the sting of discrimination.
“A woman said I didn’t speak English, so she couldn’t help me,” Yamila recalled. “Another woman said, ‘Hey, you’re going to see her.’”
Yamila eventually received care that day and is taking English classes now. But the degrading experience stuck with her and provides a sharp contrast to the sensitive, attentive care she is receiving at DAWN, which stands for “Dedicated to Aurora’s Wellness and Needs.”
New era dawns for DAWN Health at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora
Students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine joined with Aurora-based community leaders to create the free clinic in 2015. And now, a new era is dawning for DAWN.
Students from various schools still run the center with help from a medical director, volunteer doctors, a nurse practitioner and an executive director. But DAWN now has a new home at the aptly named University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.
DAWN used to operate out of a community center in an Aurora commercial district. In the evenings, volunteers would set up chairs to create a waiting room, convert rooms into exam space and turn the center into a temporary clinic. (Read about an ophthalmology clinic at the old center.) This spring, DAWN opened its doors for evening clinics at the sleek Health and Wellness Center.
Patients now get to see their health care providers in large, well-outfitted exam rooms with colorful art on the walls. Although the old setting had its charms and was popular with patients, the new clinic feels much more official and gives more dignity and privacy to patients.
“I loved our old location. It has a warm place in my heart. But the new location has a lot more space for us to grow,” said Scott Maclean, one of DAWN’s five student directors.
Since moving, DAWN already has expanded its services, and leaders hope to keep offering more help to patients.
Currently, DAWN providers use about 20 exam rooms on busy clinic nights, and about 800 patients identify doctors at DAWN Health as their primary care providers.
DAWN Health provides critical care for uninsured patients thanks to generosity of donors and many volunteers
Student providers like Martinez Antillon volunteer their time. Five volunteer student directors help run DAWN. Along with Maclean, who is getting a Master’s and plans to apply to medical school soon, they are Tori Hoelscher, a medical school applicant, Jake Plaisted, a third-year medical student, Sarah Seiwald, a fourth-year medical student and Katie Palmer, a physician assistant school applicant.
Through its extensive community benefits program, UCHealth donates access to online medical records through EPIC and the My Health Connection app. UCHealth also provides patients with free lab processing, scans, x-rays and other radiology services at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital next door. In addition, if patients speak a language other than Spanish, and an in-person interpreter like Martinez Antillon is not available, DAWN providers can use UCHealth’s iPad video interpretation services. Along with many Spanish speakers, the clinic serves African immigrants, many of whom speak Twi, a Ghanaian dialect. They also serve patients who speak a Micronesian language, Chuukese.
Altogether, UCHealth’s contributions added up to more than $500,000 last year.
DAWN offers primary care clinics every Tuesday evening. Each of these clinics depends on between 25 and 40 volunteers, including medical students who are seeing patients, college students or pre-professional students, who do everything from greeting and escorting patients to doing blood draws and providing other lab services. In addition, other volunteers serve as care coordinators. They assist with follow-up care and connecting patients with other services in the community.
DAWN also provides an array of specialty clinics on other nights.
How to get help
Are you an uninsured adult who lives in Aurora and needs medical care?
Patients seeking help can call 303-800-9677. Leave a message, and a clinic volunteer will call you back.
- Endocrinology/Diabetes care
- Obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
Ryan Mockabee, DAWN’s executive director, said that patients are loving the new location and are receiving the same trusted care that they have counted on for the last eight years.
“They know the DAWN brand. They know who we are and what we stand for. When they come in, they know they will receive very attentive and personalized care,” Mockabee said.
“Our dual mission is to provide high quality health care while also educating our future health care leaders,” he said.
Care for uninsured Aurorans is especially vital and 100% free to patients
DAWN Health is especially vital for Aurora. With nearly 400,000 residents, Aurora is the 51st largest city in the U.S. and unlike neighboring Denver, Aurora does not have an integrated public health system.
“Aurora is a really special city. Having DAWN — which is dedicated to Aurora’s wellness needs — really puts a focus and spotlight on this large, diverse community that is home to many immigrants,” he said.
“There’s a giant demand for health care services here, and DAWN volunteers are making sure that an Aurora health center is looking out for the people of Aurora.”
To qualify for care at DAWN, patients need to be uninsured and living in Aurora. The health services they receive are 100% free.
Yamila learned about DAWN after moving to Colorado and has been coming to the clinic for about a year.
“I love it. Everyone knows me. Someone who speaks Spanish is always waiting for me. It’s very organized. They weigh me, get my vitals, then I speak to the medical students,” she said.
On this evening, Yamila is following up about an MRI she received. She’s worried about a bump on her left shoulder, and she’s dealing with pain and tingling in both forearms.
She suspects her pain is connected to her work.
“I work UPS during the day and Amazon at night,” Yamila explains.
She used to unload UPS trucks, but her back started hurting, so she switched to scanning packages and now is concerned about repetitive stress injuries.
She often works double shifts, scanning packages at UPS from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., then picking up shifts as a delivery driver for Amazon. The mother of two children — a 16-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter — typically works seven days a week.
“I stopped counting hours. I don’t know how many hours,” she says.
On top of her jobs, Yamila often is caring for the kids on her own while her husband leaves town for construction jobs.
“I’m cooking. I’m cleaning. I’m doing it all,” she said.
With Martinez Antillon serving as her translator, Yamila gets help first from medical student, Dakota Hitchcock, and later from their supervising doctor, family medicine resident, Dr. Nik Kaufman.
“We are going to go over the MRI, the ultrasound and the lab results,” Hitchcock says.
After logging in to Yamila’s medical record, Hitchcock lets her know that the muscle in her shoulder is irritated and inflamed, but the bump likely is not dangerous, just extremely tight. She also has some deterioration in her spine, but Hitchcock tells her not to worry about it.
“This is just something that happens to everyone with age,” Hitchcock says.
She then examines Yamila’s forearms, doing some tests to check her strength as she asks her patient to describe where she’s feeling soreness and tingling.
“Your muscles are very tight. That could be from work,” Hitchcock says in English as Yamila looks to Martinez Antillon to be sure she’s understanding everything.
“You need to get enough water. Your muscles can get so tired,” Hitchcock adds.
“I think physical therapy is going to help you the most. What are your thoughts on physical therapy? Are you willing to try that?”
Yamila says she is, then Hitchcock leaves the room to consult with her supervising doctor.
‘The continuity of care is amazing’
As Yamila waits to hear about her course of treatment, Martinez Antillon explains why DAWN is such a special place.
“I love it here. I’ve been volunteering since September of 2021. I love that I get to practice my Spanish. I love the population we serve: many Spanish speakers, immigrants and low-income people,” Martinez Antillon says.
She earned her Bachelor’s degree at University of California, Berkeley, and is now in a one-year nursing program at University of Colorado. She’s due to graduate in December and has loved her program and the Anschutz medical campus.
“The DAWN clinic is one of the main reasons that I love it here,” Martinez Antillon said.
Thanks to donations and many, many volunteers, patients receive excellent care and have a culturally appropriate medical home.
“The continuity of care is absolutely amazing. I get to follow up with patients like Yamila and see how they are progressing,” Martinez Antillon said.
At the new clinic space, patients appreciate compassionate, high-quality care
After Hitchcock consults with Dr. Kaufman, he comes into the exam room to go over a care plan. Kaufman speaks Spanish, so Martinez Antillon can leave to go help other patients.
“The bump is a muscle mass. Your muscles are really tight, but it’s not dangerous. All the imaging is normal,” Kaufman says.
He encourages Yamila to take time during her very busy days to drink two to three liters of water. He also encourages her to eat more fruits and vegetables, including bananas, so she can add more potassium to her diet to reduce muscle cramps.
“Let’s figure out when we can schedule physical therapy,” he says.
Kaufman attended medical school at the University of Florida and volunteered at the free student clinic there, which became an inspiration for DAWN.
“I am committed to providing care for underserved people. It’s great to see clinics like this around the country,” Kaufman said.
DAWN’s new home at the Wellness Center is excellent, he said. “It’s a more formal space. It lends credibility to the work we are doing, and patients are getting higher quality care in the clinical setting they deserve. It’s easier to use the clinic equipment, and we have many more patients. It’s better for patient care,” Kaufman said.
After wrapping up details with her medical providers, Yamila then visits with a team of care coordinators. These volunteers meet with each patient to go over future appointments and to offer assistance with challenges ranging from lack of food to housing instability to transportation challenges.
Patients receive care and become teachers
The team approach is a wonderful aspect of the clinic’s model, said Dr. Brian Wolfe, DAWN’s new medical director, who is also a hospitalist at University of Colorado Hospital.
“What’s great about DAWN is we have nursing students, physician assistant students, nurse practitioner students and medical students. We have pharmacy students, physical therapy students,” Wolfe said. “It’s an incredible model that’s centered around patients.”
In addition to providing help with pressing medical challenges, the volunteers try to wrap patients in a cocoon of support.
“There’s such a lack of resources for this group of patients,” Wolfe said.
As a hospitalist, Wolfe cared for many uninsured people during the most challenging early months of the pandemic. Before vaccines and better treatments, he had to cope with the difficulty of losing many patients to COVID-19.
Wolfe wanted to find a way to support patients long before they needed to be hospitalized.
So, he volunteered at DAWN for 18 months, then applied to become the clinic’s medical director.
Along with supporting patients, Wolfe rediscovered his love of teaching.
“It’s just incredibly fulfilling,” he said. “Each Tuesday night, I come out energized.”
In addition to helping patients receive excellent care, Wolfe enjoys mentoring students and witnessing key moments when patient interactions shape future medical providers.
“All of these learners get touched by experiences at DAWN. They then carrying these experiences wherever they go and whatever they do. They may not work in free clinics later, but they will build compassion into their practices and better understand how to care for underserved patients,” Wolfe said.
At DAWN, patients receive care and also become teachers, themselves.
“The patients feel like they’re getting this free care,” Wolfe said. “But they’re also giving back so much by allowing these students to learn so much.”