From Our Team
Posted on February 17, 2021 by Dr. Michael Kelly
By Pema Garcia, Regional Director for the Texas A&M Colonias Program & Dr. Michael Kelly, Vice President, Programs, Paso del Norte Health Foundation
Nearly a year has passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in our region. We have all experienced multiple challenges in this time but have come together to help the residents of our region – including the most vulnerable - “Reduce the Risk” by providing timely and accurate information regarding COVID-19 health and safety, mental health and well-being, and financial and social services.
The Texas A&M Colonias Program, which has worked in the outlying ares of El Paso County for more than 25 years, has teamed up with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, University of Texas at El Paso, and other providers to coordinate “promotoras de salud” – or community health workers - to provide reliable, timely and accurate information to vulnerable families - families that have traditionally been more disconnected, have less access to basic needs, including internet access, and where Spanish is the predominate language. Promotora outreach is a well-documented, proven and effective approach to health promotion and disease prevention. The outreach efforts started with a partnership with the County of El Paso in the fall of 2020, and has been expanded for the next six months with $1.7 million in funding support from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation for the Texas A&M Colonias Program, UTEP and other entities to engage more than 70 promotoras in personalized outreach efforts.
The outreach efforts will help families learn the best practices to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, like masking, social distancing and hand washing, and now to assure the community that vaccinating is the right thing to do and helping them sign up for vaccine distribution. Focus group research has been conducted to ensure culturally and regionally appropriate messaging for multi-generational households, essential workers and those with limited access to electronic communications. Promotoras are trusted in the neighborhoods they serve and effective at identifying health risk factors and connecting individuals and families to health programs for timely treatment. There are countless stories of encounters where a promotora connected with someone in need and turned the tides in their lives for the better, connecting them with resources and programs to improve physical and/or mental health. Simply by taking the time to have a socially distanced conversation with an individual, promotoras are able to connect that person with a resource that literally saves their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic is making their work connecting underserved communities with a needed network of services, resources, and other programs more important than ever.
Promotoras are seen by the community as peers. They are seen as approachable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable, but above all, they are seen as members of the same community. People tend to open up more to someone like that. Promotoras from the Colonias Program have been a key asset to the Reduce the Risk campaign and are just one of the small but powerful success stories of the last 12 months. It’s easy to assume that we all have access to the same information and to overlook these underserved communities in our own region. However, the Reduce the Risk program has helped ensure that some of our most vulnerable community members who don’t have such easy access have not been forgotten and we continue to reach more people each day.
This has also had a positive effect for the mental health of the elderly and others who have become even more isolated due to COVID-19 and other health restrictions. For some, just having one-to-one contact from a promotora – someone they trust – has been a game changer for their health, mental health and overall quality of life. To learn more about the Reduce the Risk Campaign visit: ReduceTheRisk915.org or ReduceElRiesgo915.org.
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