On the fourth anniversary of the signing of the landmark Affordable Care Act, St. Agatha Church and LA Voice hosted a community health care enrollment and education fair at the Baldwin Hills church. The March 23 day-long event helped 53 people enroll in Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, and another 56 sign up for Medi-CAL, the health care program for low- or no- income residents of California.

In addition, 37 undocumented immigrants enrolled in Healthy Way LA Unmatched, a Los Angeles County-wide program offering primary medical care to undocumented residents. An additional 20 individuals received education on getting health care or were referred to another agency.

“We feel this was a good turnout at St. Agatha’s today,” said Diego Janacua Cortez, health-justice organizer for LA Voice, an interfaith community organization that trains members to be grassroots leaders. “It’s really effective work.

“A lot of the way Covered California or the state is doing this is through the phone or Internet. But a lot of people, especially the Spanish-speaking or low-income community, like somebody upfront in person to talk to. Because there’s trust issues. And some people don’t have access to or know how to use the Internet. So it’s better to see a counselor in person.”

The education and enrollment fair, in fact, came a week before the March 31 deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act for the coming year. To date, more than 4 million Americans have enrolled in the government-subsidized health plan.

LA Voice, a member of the national PICO network, has enrolled more than 700 people by working with four other Catholic parishes besides St. Agatha: Dolores Mission, Santa Teresita and Santa Isabel on the Eastside, and Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood.

“Many churches and parishes have a health ministry. They often go to visit people who are in the hospital or take food to others,” said the Rev. Sam Pullen, minister of health justice at LA Voice. “This is a different kind of health ministry that’s actually a health-justice ministry that helps people who are uninsured get access to the care that they need, and to help navigate that whole process, that whole awareness-raising.

“So by doing the enrollment in the church, when people have questions about the package that came in the mail, they’re going to call the parish office. And we’re going to have in place a team, through LA Voice, that can field questions that people have about what to do next. That’s going to be really important, because with all these last-minute signups the medical system is going to see an influx of new patients in numbers that have not been witnessed in our lifetime.”

Sister Karen Collier, Parish Life Director, said St. Agatha for much of its 90-year history has been multicultural. Today, she estimates that 60 percent are Hispanic and 40-to-50 percent of these families and individuals are undocumented. The Sister of St. Louis said many of her working-class parishioners have been leery of signing up for so-called “Obamacare.”

“I know among the Hispanic community, they don’t trust it,” she said. “They didn’t have health insurance in their home countries and believe if something happens they’ll just pay for it out of pocket. But they have no idea of the costs and how the Affordable Care Act or other health care programs can really help them. So we needed this fair, staffed by volunteers who can answer their questions in Spanish.”

Senior citizen Martin Meraz has worried almost all his adult life about what he would do if he or his wife and children should have a serious accident or become gravely ill. So on Sunday, members of his immediate family, along with a granddaughter, came to St. Agatha to sign up for health care.

“It feels different,” he said. “No problems now. Everything is OK, so I’m happy.”

His 27-year-old son Estevan, who acted as interpreter for his Mexico-born dad, was waiting to find out if his wife Bernice and their own sons Agustin, Christopher and Erick would qualify for Covered California. He has health insurance through his construction job, but the children were covered by his wife’s employer. And she lost her job two weeks ago.

“Oh, that would be a relief if they do get it,” he said. “Because as soon as I knew that my wife lost her job, I was really worried about, ‘What are we going to do?’ I would have to wait another year to add them to my own health plan. Meanwhile, anything could happen.

“So this fair is a good thing, not only for us, but also for those like my father who never had health insurance,” Estevan added. “But we are completely confused about Obamacare, and this is a lot of help. Because somebody else is explaining things, making it clearer.”

On March 31 — the last day to sign up for the Affordable Care Act for this year — Dolores Mission (171 S. Gless St., Los Angeles) is holding an enrollment drive. For information, call LA Voice, (213) 384-7404, or email the Rev. Sam Pullen, [email protected].