East Austin Community Health Promoters
The East Austin Community Health Promoters Program is an effort to improve the health of the residents of East Austin using community health promoters recruited from and working in their own communities and neighborhoods. The Program is based on Paolo Freire's model of community mobilization.
The goal of the program is to improve the health of families living in East Austin through health education, case management and community outreach to prevent diabetes and childhood obesity, and their complications. Community health workers educate residents of the East Austin Community about good health through promoting physical activity, good nutrition, and other positive ways to achieve better health.
EACHPP Community Health Promoters work intensively with children and families to foster healthy lifestyle changes. Four Community Health Promoters work with clients in the Seton Community Clinics, People's Community Clinic, and the Montopolis City of Austin Clinic. CHP’s use popular education techniques, including theater and participatory methods to foster root-cause analysis and community solutions related to childhood obesity and diabetes.
For more information, contact the Clinic's Health Promoter, Ruby Nino at 708-3167.
Spotlight on Rebecca Hernandez - A Passion for Her Community
The following article was taken from the March 2008 edition of The Voice - the People's Community Clinic email newsletter. Please contact if you have any questions.
Rebecca Hernandez has a passion for healthy living and for her community. So great is her dedication to the East Austin community in which she lives and works that she is willing to get on stage and act the role of a harried, overworked mother struggling to manage her diabetes before an audience. This is from someone who says, "Theatre is not my thing!"
The skits are part of Teatro Popular (Popular Theatre), just one of many efforts by the East Austin Community Health Promoters program to share positive messages about healthy living in new and effective ways. The presentations show a family scene with conflict over a health concern. Afterward, the audience is invited to contribute to a discussion about possible resolutions. Rebecca has (almost!) overcome her discomfort with acting and is currently preparing for a half dozen or so performances at East Austin churches and community centers. It is worth it, she knows, because she's observed that people connect better with health information through real life examples and conversation more than through a clinical style of communication.
Rebecca began working as a Community Health Promoter in 2005. The East Austin Community Health Promoters Program brings health education and case management around the health issues of diabetes and obesity to East Austin residents. Trained promoters work in the community through People's Community Clinic, the City of Austin and Seton clinic sites. Most days Rebecca carries out her work in a traditional clinic setting--the exam rooms of the Montopolis Community Health Center. There, doctors and other providers call in Rebecca to meet with patients who need help understanding their diabetes or obesity, or who need encouragement in making improvements to their diet or level of physical activity. In addition to clinic work, Promoters are encouraged to spend time out in the community meeting East Austin residents at recreational centers, libraries, or even in their homes.
Rebecca has always been interested in health, due in part to health struggles of her own. When pregnant with her son, Rebecca developed gestational diabetes and was hospitalized for the condition. "That didn't have to happen," she says. "I now understand that a person can live well with diabetes if they take responsibility for their own care." Because of her own experience with diabetes, as well as those of many diabetic family members, Rebecca understands that many patients' first response to a diagnosis of diabetes is denial.
Newly-diagnosed diabetics may resist changing their diet or checking insulin levels, and she hopes to help them through this stage. Rebecca seeks to find some way she can be useful to them. She might ask, "Would you like to learn how to use a blood sugar meter?" or "Can I help you learn how to do a foot check?" In all her interactions, Rebecca makes sure patients hear her message that diabetes is not a life sentence.
Rebecca is uniquely suited to her job as an East Austin Community Health Promoter because she's an insider to the community. She lives and works in the same East Austin neighborhoods as the patients she serves, she is of Mexican-American heritage and she speaks Spanish. These similarities give her a greater understanding of the barriers her patients encounter in their efforts toward healthy living. In keeping with the promotora model of popular education, Rebecca shares her own first-hand experiences in confronting barriers to good health with patients, in hopes that this will make her more accessible and trustworthy to them. Her experiences and background make her able to communicate effectively with low-income and limited education patients in a way that many traditional healthcare providers cannot.
In our interview, Rebecca shared one often-overlooked barrier to being physically active: neighborhood crime in East Austin. For many years she enjoyed walks around her Montopolis neighborhood, but stopped when she became the victim of a purse snatching. She has had to find other ways to remain physically active, ideas that you can be sure she is passing along to her patients.
"I say to them, 'You don't have to go to a gym.' Even raking leaves, sweeping the house or gardening can be a good source of physical activity." Rebecca also encourages patients to find an activity partner to build accountability and make exercising fun. Neighborhood crime is just one example of barrier that affect the minorities of East Austin more than other neighborhoods. Residents also have limited access to fresh produce, and have trouble finding healthcare providers who understand their ethnic heritage and cultural beliefs about illness.
Rebecca's involvement in health promotion takes many forms beyond theatrical skits and exam room consultations. She is a member of Austin Interfaith, a nonprofit coalition of 30 religious congregations, public schools, and unions who work together to address public issues that affect the Austin community. In fact, she learned about the Community Health Promoters job opening when People's Community Clinic CEO Regina Rogoff, also an Austin Interfaith member, announced the opening to the coalition.
Rebecca has also participated in ongoing research on health disparities conducted by Dr. Laura Lein of the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work and Dr. Melissa Smith of the Seton Community Health Centers. Her ongoing direct contact with patients helps researchers better understand the specific health challenges and concerns of East Austin residents in hopes that they will develop more effective ways to communicate with these populations.
Rebecca also sees links between political advocacy and wellness. "Without your health, you can't contribute much to the community. You can't go marching for causes you care about and you can't stand up against things you want to change." Thank you, Rebecca, for reminding us of the broader impact of good health on the community, and for serving as such a good role model to all of us in our efforts to live well.