Social entrepreneur Jenny DiCapua of Armonk. Courtesy of Elisabeth Rosario
A teenage entrepreneur in Armonk has developed Salud Por Todos, a healthcare app for underserved immigrants.
By Tom Schreck and Paul Adler
Like any effective social entrepreneur, Jenny DiCapua identified a gap in her community’s resources and set out to fill that need. Even as a young child visiting her grandmother, the Sacred Heart Greenwich senior observed that her friends, many of whom were the children of Latino immigrants living in New Rochelle, didn’t enjoy the same privileges she did, especially when it came to seeking medical aid.
She gathered data, surveyed the market, and tirelessly connected with her constituents. Her goal was to help members of the Latino community identify, connect, and access healthcare in the community despite their fears, language barriers, and cultural differences.
But unlike other social entrepreneurs, Jenny DiCapua set out on this quest when she was a freshman in high school. She created an app known as Salud Por Todos, an interactive database that helps local immigrants search for healthcare providers who speak Spanish, welcome undocumented citizens, take all forms of insurance, or offer a sliding-scale payment system.
“As a Latinx whose father was a South American immigrant, I realized I straddled two worlds. There was the town I grew up in, Armonk, and there was New Rochelle, where my father grew up,” says DiCapua, who is now a high school senior. “I noticed that my friends from New Rochelle and their parents struggled with untreated, chronic illnesses, and that included malnutrition, untreated mental health issues, high levels of teenage pregnancy, and all kinds of healthcare issues that you can imagine. By contrast, my parents and peers in Armonk were able to easily book and pay for healthcare appointments, and we didn’t have the issues that my friends in New Rochelle had.”
DiCapua’s project wasn’t about getting credits or embellishing her résumé for college. Healthcare for the Latinx community, especially for immigrants, was something that was very personal for her.
“She couldn’t sleep at night. Her grandmother and father lived the life of immigrants,” says Tesha Nesbit, who mentors Jenny and is director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Corporate Social Responsibility at North American Partners in Anesthesia, in Melville, NY. “She developed a very strong sense of personal responsibility and commitment to fostering health and equity for the community and especially for undocumented immigrants.”
Accessing healthcare isn’t just identifying professionals who speak the language and accept a variety of payment forms. There is something more central, which presents barriers to the Latino community. And if you didn’t grow up in that community, you may not understand or be able to relate to it.
“I would say the biggest problem is the lack of information and fear,” DiCapua points out. “They can’t find the information they need from a reliable source where they are confident of their anonymity and where they don’t feel scared that they’re being tracked.”
The fear isn’t paranoia. Immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, are afraid of deportation, arrest, and ostracism. Healthcare is just another aspect of a new culture that they struggle to conceptualize and understand.
“They don’t know if they’re going to be asked for identification, what the payment requirements are, or where to find healthcare that understands them and their community. The lack of knowledge and resources to understand the system breeds fear,” DiCapua says.
Though there are healthcare providers who are sympathetic to the immigrant and Latinx communities, identifying them when you don’t know the system is challenging. Those providers are often underfunded and overcrowded with patients. There just aren’t enough of the right kind of services that are easily accessible. That’s what DiCapua set out to change.
She began to compile data on providers through her own exhaustive research, scouring the internet. She immediately noticed that there was no central, comprehensive database of healthcare providers. Instead, she had to glean the information from Healthgrades.com, hospital websites, and insurance homepages. The result was a compilation of 6,000 healthcare providers organized by services, language, payment, and other categories.
“As a Latinx whose father was a South American immigrant, I realized I straddled two worlds.” —Jenny Dicapua
But there are other facets of DiCapua’s Salud Por Todos that are important to the population.
Di Capua’s app, Salud Por Todos, is aimed at bridging this gap. It is essentially an interactive database or “filtering tool,” according to Di Capua, that helps area immigrants locate healthcare providers that speak Spanish, welcome undocumented individuals, and take various forms of insurance.”
The key point of the app was to create a resource that was informative and comprehensive without causing the user to feel threatened or vulnerable. It was essential to build that right into the app itself.
“I designed it so it was very easy for the user to filter through all of the different topics and concerns they might have, and it is free.” —Jenny Dicapua
In building the database, not only was there the challenge of creating it from scratch and ensuring that everyone using it felt safe; there was also the issue of functionality and, of course, cost. It was essential for DiCapua to keep all of those considerations in mind as part of the strategy.
“I designed it so it was very easy for the user to filter through all of the different topics and concerns they might have, and it is free. That included things like payment, including what insurances the provider accepts, and whether they have a sliding scale,” DiCapua says. “I also examined whether the doctor spoke Spanish or if there was a translator available. I created filters for each of these concerns so that the user can get their most essential questions answered.”
The database wasn’t a mere copy-and-paste effort. DiCapua verified and curated the list of healthcare providers to make sure their information was accurate, timely, and comprehensive. She admits that the lack of a centralized database of providers was frustrating and that it dictated the direction she needed to take in the creation of the app.
“I verified every single provider and every single piece of information I found,” says DiCapua. “Unfortunately, so much important information isn’t listed. Things as fundamental as what languages are spoken aren’t available on the internet. Getting that information was a lofty task, and verifying and curating it is ongoing for me.”
DiCapua — who makes no profit from the app — sees the project as a work in progress and not as something that is even close to being completed.
“I’d also love to branch into other underserved immigrant communities and do the same work with different languages and accessibility,” she says.
There’s something else on the horizon for DiCapua, something more typical for a high school senior: going to college.
“If I were to look 10 years into the future, I would probably see myself getting a law degree and continuing this passion at a firm and helping the minority population understand and access all of their rights,” she says. “I’d love to take what I’ve learned and continue to work in the nonprofit sector and maybe lead an organization someday.”
To Nesbit, DiCapua’s mentor, such aspirations are nothing close to an overreach. To her, the sky’s the limit for DiCapua.
“I wouldn’t pigeonhole Jenny into any particular study. She’s young and evolving, and I think it will be eye-opening to see where she lands,” Nesbit notes. “She has so many incredible opportunities in front of her.”