Sunday Profile: Part of what this doc treats is immigrants’ fear
Post Independent Correspondent
Michael Lintner was born with volunteerism in his blood.
“My mom is from Nicaragua, and my dad is American. They met when my father was down there for Peace Corps,” he said. Lintner, now a Carbondale resident and Aspen Valley Hospital physician, was born in California but spent the majority of his formative years growing up in his mother’s home country.
“My parents initially left Nicaragua because of the war going on there at the time, and after I was born we bounced around and lived in a few different places, but then returned,” he added. “I think growing up in an underdeveloped country exposed me to the inequalities there at a young age, and that had a profound impact on me. It made me want to find a way to help people.”
Lintner later returned to the United States to pursue a career in medicine, moving to Seattle for undergraduate studies and then finishing medical school and his residency at the University of Illinois Peoria. In August 2015, the doctor took a chance on the Roaring Fork Valley when he moved here with his wife and two young children to take a position as hospitalist at AVH.
“As soon as we came here, we wanted to find somewhere to volunteer,” he said. “I had done a little research about the area, and learned that there is a large immigrant population downvalley — that there are disparities among the different communities of people, and I wanted to get involved in some way.”
Within a few short months, Lintner had helped spearhead an initiative with Carbondale-based organization Valley Settlement to help provide medical care for Spanish-speaking individuals served by the nonprofit.
In February 2016, he began spending one Saturday each month in its Third Street Center office seeing patients free of charge.
“Valley Settlement had a grant they were using for health and wellness, and I said, ‘Why don’t we just start a small clinic for some of these people here?’ We kind of ran with the idea and weren’t quite sure yet how to do it, but in the end we were able to make things work out.”
On his volunteer clinic days, Lintner arrives at the Third Street Center office a bit early to reorganize it for better patient privacy. He reviews the list of appointments for the afternoon to learn who he’s seeing and why, and then his patients begin to arrive. He checks their vitals, discusses their health concerns in the usual physician-patient interaction, and then takes one more important final step: he helps ease their fears about approaching the American health-care system for continued care.
“I am not in a position to become these patients’ primary care physician,” Lintner said. “So during the initial visit I’m able to have with them, the goal is to talk about their condition but also help them get plugged into the local health-care system. Health care in the U.S. is difficult enough to navigate as it is for people born and raised here, let alone people who are new to this country. It can be very daunting for anyone, but especially for people who need medical assistance and are facing language and cultural barriers.”
Lintner, with his life experiences in Nicaragua, the United States and other countries, possesses an understanding of what it can feel like to have a foot in two (or more) worlds; he hopes that this aids in forming a bridge of connection with the people he sees through Valley Settlement. Many of his patients, he reported, are juggling the lives they left behind while learning to adjust to both American culture and the valley’s immigrant community, composed of individuals from multiple nations across Spanish-speaking Latin America.
“There can be a lot of fear,” he said. “Just like with any immigrant population in the world, the first concern is resettling, readjusting and getting to know how everything works. But with health care, they ask me: ‘Is it expensive? What should I expect, what if I don’t have insurance?’ So, I do my best to let them know that there are places like Mountain Family Health Center that are a safe, quality option for them to receive affordable care down the road.”
A representative from Mountain Family is typically present during Lintner’s monthly clinics to help advise patients on what steps to take next, including eligibility for the health organization’s sliding fee scale according to income if they are uninsured.
Looking ahead, Lintner hopes that more people living within the local underserved community can be reached.
“Slowly we’re evaluating the bigger picture of what our responsibilities are here in the valley,” he noted. “We are going to be meeting with some of the administration from Mountain Family and seeing what else can be done, whether through this program or something else we can come up with.”
With the cost of health care reaching staggering highs in the valley, Lintner added that he thinks the community as a whole must strive to understand issues facing people like the patients he sees.
“I think the valley is a microcosm of the U.S.,” he said. “There is wealth here, but there are still people who struggle. Having grown up in a developing country, I saw inequalities that were much more in your face, where the contrast was more striking. But here, the inequality lives in the shadows — and this almost makes it more of a challenge to address and hopefully overcome.”
Plus, he added in regard to health-care access, “as a community, we all bear the cost.”
For now, Lintner will continue seeing about eight new patients every month during his afternoons as a volunteer physician with Valley Settlement.
“I have always been passionate about volunteering, especially in working with underrepresented people. I think this comes from feeling blessed with what you have and wanting to help other people in need — especially because my own family origins are pretty humble,” he said. “It’s about helping your neighbors, because everybody struggles
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