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Frida Salcedo-Montes

Frida’s father moved his family from Mexico to the U.S. when Frida was six, hoping for them to become U.S. citizens one day. “It was his dream for us to stay here so we’d have a better life,” Frida said.

Despite having a college degree, her father had struggled to find steady work in Mexico. The U.S. provided the opportunity and stability for their family to succeed. But when her father passed away from colon cancer six years later, that sense of opportunity became harder to hold onto. Without her father, Frida, her mother Juliet, and her sister Dulce have struggled financially. Frida and her mother both work full time in their hometown of Jackson, TN to help support the family. When Frida’s son Bradley came along, she had to work even harder.

But in the summer of 2014, a medical emergency put their success in jeopardy. Frida was admitted to the E.R. with severe pain, and underwent emergency gall bladder surgery. Her job didn’t provide insurance, and though Frida has a legal immigration status, she didn’t qualify for TennCare. When she left the hospital after her surgery, she faced medical bills of $46,000. To make matters worse, she had tried for months to apply for TennCare for her son, Bradley, who is a U.S. citizen, but hadn’t heard anything back. She faced mounting medical bills not only for her care, but for his care as well.

“The bills were so scary to me,” Frida said. “With our budget, we make just enough to survive. I didn’t choose to get sick. And with Bradley I thought it was unfair because he’s a U.S. citizen. I just kept asking myself, ‘why?’”

Frida was eligible for assistance under the Emergency Medicaid Services program, which reimburses hospitals for emergency care they provide to people who would qualify for TennCare except for their immigration status. But technological failures and communication problems within multiple state offices had effectively barred hospitals from being able to apply for their patients. Frida’s application went nearly a year without a decision. When the state finally processed it, she was denied.

This not only impacted Frida’s personal finances, but the hospital’s as well. The hospital had no way to cover the expenses of Frida’s surgery, which should have been covered by EMS. When hospitals don’t get compensated for the care they provide, the cost gets passed on to people who do have insurance, and can even lead to layoffs and hospital closures. This has already happened to three hospitals in West Tennessee, and the fourth is closing on May 18th.

But Frida wasn’t willing to give up. She contacted the Tennessee Justice Center, who filed an appeal and fought to get Frida’s hospital stay covered. They also followed up on Bradley’s applications. Within a few weeks, Bradley was enrolled in TennCare, and Frida learned that her medical debt would be paid. “TJC was wonderful,” Frida said. “If it hadn’t been for y’all, I wouldn’t have gotten the coverage. You were like an angel.”

Now, Frida and her family are back on track toward achieving her father’s dream. They are planning to apply for permanent resident status next year. From there, they will work toward U.S. citizenship. “It’s a big step forward for us,” Frida said. “We have worked so hard to get where we are.”

In her free time, Frida enjoys going to the park or the mall with her family, or taking Bradley to Chuck E. Cheese. She has lived in Jackson much of her life, but hopes to travel beyond Tennessee someday. She plans to make the most of the opportunities her country has to offer. “The U.S. is my life,” Frida said.

She is grateful for the help TJC provided her family. She said, “I hope more people can get help from people like you.”

For Frida’s extraordinary tenacity and devotion to her family, TJC is proud to honor her as 2016 Mother of the Year.

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