My first job out of college was working for Salud Family Health Centers as an Americorps volunteer. Back then, a novel approach to providing community health education was just making inroads in Commerce City, where I was based. Our clinic began partnering with Promatoras, or Health Promoters, in an attempt to connect with the burgeoning Latino immigrant population in the community. The Promatoras provided one-on-one health education to immigrant families in their houses and clinic staff followed-up if acute or chronic medical needs were identified.
As a member of the field team on this project, I saw firsthand the positive impact these Promatoras made. From helping families navigate the complex health care system to teaching them the importance of eating well and exercising, the Promatoras became an instant advocate for these recent immigrant families trying to find their way in a new country. Linking our community health education work to the medical team working at Salud was essential—in case access to medical care was deemed necessary—but also the ethical thing to do—in some cases a lack of health insurance or lack of access to care was the problem in the first place.
Since that first foray into health care work almost 10 years ago, I’ve studied the impact community health workers, a catch-all term for lay health workers like Promatoras, can have on health outcomes. A number of studies have demonstrated that community health workers can help improve health behaviors, health status, and health care access while reducing health care costs. However, one of the greatest barriers to success for community health worker programs is the lack of connection to a clinical setting. From what I experienced at Salud, I’m not surprised—this link was vital to the success of the partnership.
To address this common barrier, Aurora Health Access, a coalition CCMU has long been involved with, is trying something new. With funding from the Colorado Office of Health Disparities, a team of community partners are working together to develop a project that pairs community-based community health workers with clinic-based patient navigators. The goal is to create better health care transitions from the clinical setting to the community setting and vice versa.
Establishing this explicit link between community health education and clinical health interventions is important because we know that neither of these interventions happens in a vacuum. Individual patients and families often need help translating or executing the advice they get from a clinician to their day to day lives. And community health education can only be successful if clinical health care needs are met along the way. Ultimately, this dual approach will allow everyone to do their job more effectively and end with the result that really matters: a health care system in Aurora that meets the complex needs of its residents.