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Posted on Sun. Feb. 26, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Health promoters help bridge language, service gap

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COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) When Rocio Sanchez's 8-year-old daughter became sick, she turned to someone she trusted for help.

It wasn't a family member. It was Nora Garcia, whom Sanchez knows from St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church.

Garcia is one of Columbus Regional Hospital's two "promotoras," or health promoters, who help Spanish-speaking residents by directing them to medical resources and educating them on health issues.

"It is very beneficial," Sanchez said through an interpreter, referring to the promotora program. "They give us that information we need. .When we don't speak the language, English, they help us with interpretations."

The Hispanic population here grew 198 percent from 1,598 to 4,762 people in Bartholomew County from 2000 to 2010, according to 2010 U.S. census data.

The hospital uses a three-pronged outreach effort: CRH offers a clinic for Spanish-speaking people at Volunteers in Medicine on Monday evenings. Two promotoras provide help one at VIM, the other at St. Bartholomew. And volunteers are trained to lead a self-care mental health program because depression and anxiety are big problems in the Hispanic community, said Laura Hurt, the hospital's director of diversity.

The promotoras are a lifeline for many Spanish speakers.

The No. 1 issue "is the language barrier, and how do we help them manage the health system where do they go for help? and how do we help them?" said Amparo Caudell, who coordinates the promotora program for CRH.

The goal, she said, is for promotoras to help people become self-sufficient consumers of health care.

Promotoras exist in Latin American countries and in Western and Southwestern states with large Hispanic populations, Hurt said. Columbus Regional launched its program in 2007.

The program started with four promotoras. Hurt said the hope is to add more, especially in workplace settings. Another goal is to have promotoras who provide specialized help, such as for diabetes or substance abuse.

Promotoras aren't required to have a medical background, but they receive training on health issues. More important is a "spirit to serve people," Hurt said.

"They need to be from the community we're trying to serve because they (need to) have trust and inroads into the community and live in the population," Hurt said.

Garcia and Rosalba Simpson have been promotoras since the program started. Simpson, 41, has lived in Columbus for about 20 years. Garcia, 37, has lived in Columbus for 10 years. Simpson was identified for the program because patients at VIM routinely turned to her for help, Caudell said, and Garcia was chosen because St. Bartholomew parishioners sought her assistance.

"They feel more comfortable with people that not only speak our language but are familiar with our culture and can understand what they're feeling," Garcia said.

Sanchez said that because she knows Garcia from work and church, she knows she can call Garcia if she needs something. Sanchez said Garcia has told her where to go for help, informed her about important events to attend and answered questions about Medicaid.

Garcia and Simpson are paid for 10 hours of work each week, although Simpson said she usually volunteers extra hours.

"I love what I do. .I like to help. It makes me feel like I'm somebody here," said Simpson, who studied to be a nurse when she lived in Mexico.

The promotoras participate in health fairs, teach classes, visit clients, direct clients to community resources, take them to appointments if needed and follow up with clients with phone calls.

Garcia said common questions are about diabetes, Medicaid, the Women, Infants, and Children program and baby care.

Classes they've taught have covered topics such as stroke, blood pressure, heart disease, breast health, and osteoporosis.

A recent class at St. Bartholomew focused on diabetes, which Simpson said is a big problem in the Hispanic community because too many people eat fried and unhealthy foods.

Simpson said the classes are well received.

"They are happy when they are learning something," she said.


Information from: The Republic,

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