NCH Promotoras Program Makes a Difference in the Health of Latino Communities

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promotoruasteamThe NCH Promotoras, from left, Ana Flores, Violeta Audelo-Solano, Daniela Baez, Laura Ramirez and Rosa Vasquez.

Five young Latino women are having a positive effect on the health of hundreds within the Spanish-speaking communities of Chicago’s northwest suburbs, thanks to their participation in an innovative health education program sponsored by Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) and Partners for Our Communities (POC), with additional financial support by the United Way.

Ana Flores, Daniela Baez, Laura Ramirez, Violeta Audelo-Solano and Rosa Vasquez are peer counselors in Promotoras de Salud: Health Education for the Latino Community, which is based on an internationally recognized model for preventing disease and promoting healthy lifestyles through peer education.

Promotora Violeta Audelo-Solano, right, comforts a new mom and baby during a bedside visit at NCH.
Promotora Violeta Audelo-Solano, right, comforts a new mom and baby during a bedside visit at NCH (Northwest Community Hospital).
The promotoras or “promoters of good health” were chosen based on their leadership skills and recognized as sharing the same values, culture, language and life experiences as the people they serve, says Karen Baker, director of Community Services at NCH.

“I am a go-to person in my community, and because I wear the NCH ID, I am seen as more than just another neighbor,” Promotora Laura Ramirez says. “This means that I am working giving knowledge, even when I am not working because people are always stopping me to ask about something.”

Promotoras de Salud focuses on good nutrition, prevention of diabetes (one in three Latinos will develop diabetes before attaining adulthood), breastfeeding (breastfed babies are up to 75 percent less likely to become overweight), well-child care (raising healthy children) and awareness of domestic violence (steps to take if one becomes a victim), Baker says.

Throughout the northwest suburbs – at schools, churches and social service agencies – the program last year provided health education to 356 participants (almost 75 percent with an annual family income of less than $25,000, and half of whom were uninsured, based on NCH Community Services statistics). More than 40 percent of those who received diabetes education were either diagnosed with diabetes or had a family member with diabetes.

The promotoras are bilingual and, through the program, have undergone leadership training and instruction on a variety of health topics. Besides their efforts in the community, they work at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill., providing breastfeeding support and resource information to Spanish-speaking mothers at the bedside and after discharge. In fact, the promotoras made 1,300 bedside visits last year to 468 Latino mothers who delivered babies at NCH. In addition, one promotora is trained in congestive heart failure, to better support Latino heart patients after discharge.

Beyond the statistics, these community health workers bring intangibles to the program, such as finding the necessary resources for a woman who cannot weigh herself because she has no scale, assuring a mother that her child’s illness is not due to the “evil eye,” and bridging the language barrier between patient and physician or nurse, thereby reducing patient stress and increasing understanding, Baker says.

The Sinai Urban Health Institute of Chicago’s Sinai Health System recently recognized the success of the community health worker program, citing NCH for “its great work and investment in community health and the Promotora model. A unique strength of the Promotora program is the great passion and commitment of staff for their work and its value to both patients and the community at large.”

That passion and commitment already has prompted one NCH promotora – Baez – to become a nurse, and two others – Flores and Vazquez – to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in addition to working as community health workers, Baker says.

As one promotora explains, “Who would have thought that little old me from Mexico would one day walk through the halls and work where doctors and geniuses work?”

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